Rushden Lakes rescue heroes - how drama unfolded

The incident unfolded at Rushden Lakes

Rescuers who responded to the screams of a teenager stranded in water at Rushden Lakes, have revealed how they swam to her aid after they heard words ‘help, I’m drowning’.

Both Tracy Hurley and Charlotte Smith had separately been enjoying a post-lunch walk in the shopping centre’s nature reserve but their strolls were cut short after they both heard screams – and the complete strangers decided to act together.

But trying to locate the source of the shouts for help proved difficult due to thick brambles, nettles and undergrowth so the women, with bare legs, had to go into the water to reach the teenager.

Tracy Hurley and Charlotte Smith with daughter Jessica

Tracy Hurley, from Bozeat had gone for a walk around the lake with her friend, Debbie Terry.

She said: “We were just walking around the lake when we heard this screaming of this girl. I heard her say ‘my friend is dead’. At this point we had no idea where she was.”

Next along the path was Brigstock mum Charlotte Smith, 30, on a walk with her cousin, and baby Jessica, four months.

She said: “At the far end of the lake we could hear some screaming. At first we thought it was children playing then we heard ‘help, help somebody help, I’m drowning, I’m drowning’.

The yellow arrow is where the rescuers accessed the water, swimming to the 'cove' shown by the red cross

"Tracy and I locked eyes and we went to look for her. We couldn’t locate her because it’s so densely wooded. We ran up and down and I found a gap with a style to the second lake.

"We jumped into the water and swam to her.”

Swimming was made hard because of the thick reeds. The women swam on their back to avoid getting tangled.

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Charlotte, a former lifeguard at Rothwell swimming pool, was apprehensive at what they would find as they neared the ‘cove’ where the 16-year-old had sought refuge.

She said: “I thought we were going to find a dead body in the water.”

As the two rescuers swam, calls to the emergency services had been made by their companions. A police officer who had been on the site was first to answer the call. He too dived in.

After a 200m swim, the women reached the teenager who had waded into the water.

Charlotte said: “She was in all sorts of distress. We waited. Then a man swam to us. He could see me because I was wearing a pink dress. We thought he was a security guard but it turned out he was a policeman.”

Using app ‘what3words’ and a heat sensor from a helicopter, the four were located and rescued from the lakeside by water rescue crews from Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Tracy said: “We were rescued by a boat. It was quite a long swim, the water was stagnant and our legs were torn to shreds from the brambles, and I’ve got Fibromyalgia and back problems.”

She added: ”I acted on instinct. As a mum, you couldn’t walk past.”

Account manager Charlotte said: “I couldn’t believe how many people had walked past before we helped. In hindsight it was quite a big thing. We did a good thing and I’m pleased she was OK. It could have ended very differently.”

It is believed that the 16-year-old had got lost on a walk near the lake. Her phone battery died and she couldn’t find her way back to her family. She was reunited with her mother.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) said: “NFRS was called to Rushden Lakes at 1.44pm on Thursday (June 16) to assist other emergency services including the police and ambulance in a water rescue.

“We sent four appliances including our water rescue units from Mereway and Wellingborough, and managed to recover all those involved on a rescue sled."

The two women have been presented with gift vouchers by the Rushden Lakes management team as a thank you for their efforts.

Tracy and Charlotte are now planning a reunion at the shopping destination to have a drink overlooking the lake.

The Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants who manages the nature reserve said: “We do not allow swimming on any of our sites. There are reeds that people can get tangled in, cold temperatures in deeper areas, blue green algae blooms and there may be equipment from when the site was a working gravel pit. We would urge everyone that a lake in a nature reserve is not the place to cool down on a hot day.”

A spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) added: “We are expecting very nice weather over the next couple of days, so would urge members of the public to stay safe in and around the water in Northamptonshire. Water can still be very cold even on a hot day and can potentially send the body into water shock.”

The Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants who manages the nature reserve said: “We do not allow swimming on any of our sites. There are reeds that people can get tangled in, cold temperatures in deeper areas, blue green algae blooms and there may be equipment left over from when the site was a working gravel pit. We would urge everyone that a lake in a nature reserve is not the place to cool down on a hot day.”

Here are some tips on how to stay safe if you do choose to swim in open water:

Get to know where you are swimming and check the condition before going inMake sure you are properly equipped and beware of the coldMake sure someone knows where you have gone and why, and that you have the means to call for help, especially in remote locationsTake note of local safety advice and respect the countryside, landowners and other usersDownload the what3words app on your phone so you can give specific location advice to emergency services if you get into troubleIf you get stuck in the water with cold body shock, try and float on your back in a star shape and allow the shock to pass. Do not try and fight against itIf you see another person or animal in the water, you should NOT enter water yourself to rescue them. Call 999 and ask for the fire service immediatelyIn most cases an animal will make it back to safety, sadly this is not always the case for an ownerTry and throw a floating device such as a throw line or an inflatable to help any people who are struggling in the water