A FORMER lifeguard saved a man from drowning when she dragged him out of the canal after he fell in as she drove past.
Grandma Sheelagh Fleming , 60, pulled Sam Kendall, 23, to safety after he fell 15ft from a bridge into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Barnoldswick – at 1.15am.
The mother-of-two and grandmother-of-two was travelling home from a concert by The Eagles in Manchester and was driving over the bridge when she saw Sam fall backwards.
She stopped her car, ran down the bank and jumped into the water as Sam sank to the bottom of the canal.
Sam, of Co-Operative Street, Barnoldswick, believes it was fate that Sheelagh was driving past at that exact moment or he would have drowned.
He said: "I just can’t thank her enough. She is an absolute hero and it’s thanks to her that I’m alive. I don’t remember anything after I started to fall until I woke up on the bank. It was pure fate that she was there at that time and it clearly wasn’t my time to go."
Sam, a former pupil at West Craven High School and Accrington and Rossendale College, had been socialising with a friend before he headed into town to meet up with his girlfriend, Rebecca Bithell.
He decided to sit on the barrier over the canal in Long Ing Lane and leaned forward to tie his shoe lace.
Labourer Sam, who works at CoolVan in Altham, said: "I was just tying my shoe lace and when I leaned back I misjudged it and didn’t grab hold of the barrier and fell in.
“I wouldn't be here without her and I will never forget what she has done for me.
“Thinking about it now I can’t believe what happened and how lucky I am to be alive.
“I certainly won’t be sitting on there again."
Ex-swimming instructor Sheelagh, who worked at the old William Thompson Recreation Centre in Burnley and has saved six lives as a lifeguard, had left the concert early to miss the crowds and was driving home to Glen Garth, Barnoldswick.
She said: "It was just fate that I was driving past at that exact moment.
“As I was approaching the bridge I could see that someone was sitting on the side and the then the next thing I knew they were gone.
“I parked up and looked over the side and I just saw these two hands and a head disappearing under the water.
“I saw them bob back up again and then they were gone.
“I made sure that it was safe for me to go in after him and that I would be able to get him out.
“I found him on the bottom of the canal and managed to get him up and onto the bank.
“He kept on slipping in and out of consciousness and I was worried about Lyme disease and secondary drowning where the lungs fill up with water.
“The ambulance was called for but they said that it would be half an hour because there is only one serving the area.
“His mum turned up and took him home with her after he was stabilised.
“I always say that my last name, Fleming, is like the author of James Bond, but I felt more like ‘Jane Bond’ on Thursday night.”
Sheelagh, who is also a qualified sailor with the Royal Yachting Association, now works in sales for Wyndham Vacation Rentals, where she is also a ‘heart start’ trainer, which is a life-saving scheme run by the North West Ambulance Service to teach CPR and first aid.
Sam's mum, Kath Hawkins, 46, took him home for the night before driving him to Airedale General Hospital where he underwent brain scans and other tests before he was given the all clear.
She said: "I was absolutely distraught when I was told what had happened and I rushed over to the canal.
“I didn’t know what to think and I’m so grateful for what Sheelagh has done for my son.
“She’s a hero and he would not be alive today without her. I can never thank her enough.”
Sam’s girlfriend, Rebecca, 18, who attends Accrington and Rossendale College, said: “I was walking up to the bridge when I saw someone fall.
“At first I didn’t know that it was him but as I ran to the bridge I realised.
“I didn’t know what to think or to do and it was so lucky that Sheelagh was there to help.
“I thought he was dead and it was just a horrible experience.
“I’m so grateful to her for what she did because he would be dead without her.”