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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Rescuers battled in vain to save Cumbrian river plunge couple

Police have praised the bravery of would-be rescuers who tried in vain to save a couple after their car plunged into a river.

Appleby car plunge rescuers photo
Pub landlord Daniel Graham, centre, Frank Gillespie, from Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue and his wife Sandra

Alan Murray, 73 and his wife Barbara, 74, were in a car which crashed through a roadside hedge on a bend and landed upside down in a rain-swollen beck 15 feet below a bridge.

The tragedy happened at 3.35pm on Saturday as the couple drove along the B6260 at Hoff, just south of Appleby.

Several locals and emergency crews made a desperate attempt to get the elderly couple out of their car.

But they were unable to save them and Mr and Mrs Murray were pronounced dead at the scene.

One of the first at the scene was Daniel Graham, landlord of the nearby New Inn. He was joined by Kirkby Stephen mountain rescue volunteer Sandra Gillespie, and within a short time by police officers, fire-fighters and paramedics.

Daniel, 29, said the car tumbled into Hoff Beck, normally less than a foot deep but swollen in recent days by recent heavy rain.

“The water was up to my waist and absolutely freezing,” he said.

“I was in a T-shirt and my work trousers and I stayed there until I couldn’t do any more. It was such a struggle because it has been so wet.

“It was quite frightening. Everybody here has been is in shock.

“I stayed helping until we got the man out but in the end it was too much.”

Firefighters worked alongside paramedics, including a crew from the Great North Air Ambulance. Mr and Mrs Murray, of Scattergate Crescent, Appleby, were released from their blue Vauxhall Omega after what police said were “protracted” efforts.

Sergeant Paul Brown, who is investigating the tragedy for Cumbria police, said: “There were some very brave efforts by members of the public and police officers, who entered the river to get the driver out.

“You can’t underestimate the efforts they made but unfortunately they were not successful.”

Sgt Brown said that police are now trying to establish why the car appeared to lose control as it negotiated a slight bend approaching the bridge over the river.

No other vehicle was involved but police still want to hear from witnesses. Anybody who saw the Vauxhall travelling along the Orton Scar road towards Appleby before the crash is also urged to contact police on 101.

Police will investigate various possible causes, including mechanical failure or a medical event. At the time of the accident, it was raining but the tragedy is not being treated as a freak weather incident, said sergeant Brown.

The road was closed for four hours while police accident investigators examined the scene and arranged for recovery of the Vauxhall car.

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