An Inverness cyclist thought he was going to die after falling from a 30ft bridge near Portsoy – but a “guardian angel” came to his rescue.
Duncan Brown was in the midst of a 186 mile ride when he skidded on a wet road as he approached a sharp bend onto a bridge towards Whitehills near Portsoy last Saturday (July 31).
Crashing into the bridge, the 34-year-old went over the wall and fell into the river below – unable to move due to his injuries.
It was then that a nearby “guardian angel” stepped in to save his life.
RAF nursing officer Nell Kerr, 51, had watched the entire disaster unravel just yards away from her garden.
Scrambling down the riverbank to GP-in-training Mr Brown, she hauled him to safety – even rescuing his bike in the process.
Emergency crews eventually airlifted him to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, where he’d finished working in A&E just one day prior.
Mr Brown said it was a “miracle” his fall was seen by the RAF officer and incredibly was able to go back and thank Ms Kerr just days later – having sustained no life-threatening injuries.
The Inverness cyclist said: “It was nothing short of a miracle I don’t know how I survived the day, I honestly don’t know.
“I was going down the hill and when I realised the turn was sharper than I’d imagined and my back wheel skidded, I remember hitting this tree and hearing a massive splash.
‘I was in so much agony’
“By the time it took my brain to realise something had happened, I was in the water at the bottom just dazed and practically knocked out.
“I was actually submerged in the water. I was only just getting my head and neck out.
“I was going hypothermic, it was freezing, I was going into shock and it was nothing short of a miracle.
“I could have slipped back into the water so easily, if you pass out you pass out, you cant control yourself.
“Every time I tried to move it was like shattered glass going through my left leg, absolute agony.
“I was just in a state of shock and that’s when I looked up and saw Nell who saved me.
‘I was going to die – literally’
“Without her I would I have been in serious serious trouble – I was going to die literally, there was no way around it. ”
Saying that she automatically “went into autopilot”, Ms Kerr said: “It’s a rapid river so its quite loud.
“A couple of minutes earlier or later I wouldn’t have heard or seen anything– so it was a golden moment.
“Had it even been half an hour before I’d have found him, his condition would have been very different.”
Mr Brown had left his seven-week old daughter Emily and wife Lizzie at home when he left to tackle the 15-hour cycle.
He was four hours and 62 miles in to the event which had began in Nairn at 6am that morning.
And just miles from a bacon roll stop, Mr Brown said he feared he wouldn’t see his daughter again as he plummeted into the Burn of Boyne.
He said: “A few minutes more or a few minutes less or if I had hit the bridge in a slightly different way – I could have fallen 30ft straight to my death or almost certainly broken my neck and been paralysed,
But luckily for Mr Brown, Ms Kerr was in her back garden when she “saw a flash of red go over the bridge”.
She said: “I heard the click, click, click of him trying to brake then I saw him go over. My training just kicked in.
“I jumped up and ran across and looked down and saw him dragging himself to the edge of the water and yelled out ‘are you okay?’ – his response wasn’t ideal so I got down there.
‘He was going into shock’
Ms Kerr then ran back to her house to call for help, fetching Mr Brown a blanket and a beanie hat to keep him warm.
She then administrated first aid as they waited for the emergency crews.
As the riverbank turned to mush, coastguard, fire and ambulance crews arrived on the scene, putting up an inflatable raft to get Mr Brown to safety.
He was driven to nearby Portsoy by paramedics where an air ambulance was waiting to fly him to hospital.
Just moments later, wife Lizzie watched as the helicopter flew above the couple’s house in Inverness, taking Mr Brown to Raigmore.
He suffered painful and severe soft tissue damage – but has been able to get around on a crutch and was discharged the same day.
Mr Brown said: “If she hadn’t have seen that nobody would have known that I was down there because there was no trace on the road, there was nothing on the road to say that I had been over.
‘I thought I was about to die’
“If she hadn’t done that, I would have almost certainly passed out and maybe slipped back in to the water – it just doesn’t bare thinking about – it would have been the end.
“It was just this feeling of impending doom, I thought I was about to die. It was awful. You lie there and you think what have I done and there is a sense of real panic.”
Already back briefly in the saddle, Mr Brown said the incident will be “really difficult to come to terms with” and that rehabilitation will take months – but the junior doctor is “eternally grateful” to both emergency services and Ms Kerr.
He said: “Absolutely life long gratitude, she literally saved my life.
“The rescue services were amazing. The bravery and the professionalism – I just want my heartfelt gratitude to be known.”
Emergency services’ statements
A police spokesman said: “We received report of a male cyclist coming off the road and falling in the water at Scottsmill Bridge on the B9139 near Portsoy.
“Emergency services, including the coastguard and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, attended and the man was taken by ambulance to hospital.”
A fire spokeswoman said: “We received a call at 10.57am. Two boat teams were sent to the scene, as well as four pumping appliances, an aerial appliance and a life rescue team.
“We got the stop message 12.17pm.”
A coastguard spokesman added: “At just before 11am on 31st July, HM Coastguard sent rescue teams from Fraserburgh and Macduff to assist Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with a cyclist who required medical assistance after falling onto a river bank.
“The coastguard assisted the Fire and Rescue Service in recovering the casualty onto the road, with transportation to hospital then being carried out.”