Man who saved woman and two kids from drowning in River Lee said he could see kids scratching at window

A man who saved a woman and her two children from drowning in their car in the River Lee said he was just in the right place at the right time, writes Eoin English.

“I’m not a hero. I’m just a man. Anybody would have done the same thing,” said Piotr Smolenski, 35, who has been living in Cork for eight years.

He was speaking yesterday as he revisited the scene of the near-tragedy.

Piotr Smolenski pointing to where the rescue took place at Lower Castleview Terrace, Lower Glanmire Rd, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane
Piotr Smolenski pointing to where the rescue took place at Lower Castleview Terrace, Lower Glanmire Rd, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

A mother and her two young children were sitting in the family car, parked above a disused slipway at Lower Castleview Terrace on the Lower Glanmire Rd at around 7.20pm on Saturday.

The mother was in the passenger seat and the children and their dog, Milo, were in the back seat.

It is understood that the handbrake may have been accidentally disengaged, allowing the car to roll into the river at full tide.

The passenger window was slightly open, and the car floated out about 10m before it began to fill with water and sink.

The children’s father, Bart Waszczewski, came out of their house across the street and saw the incident unfold.

The car which accidently entered the River Lee on Saturday
The car which accidently entered the River Lee on Saturday

“She was screaming, the kids were screaming. I was thinking, ‘This is my family’. You have nothing in your head. And you just try to do something to help,” said Mr Waszczewski.

He jumped into the river and tried desperately to smash the driver’s window with his fists and elbows, without success.

He then tried to hold on to the car to prevent it from drifting into the deep main channel, where it would have been swept away.

“I tried myself to help, but couldn’t. By myself, I couldn’t help. Maybe I’d get one person out, maybe two. But not all. Then Piotr helped. Because of him, they survived.”

Mr Smolenski, who was driving along the road at the same time, said he saw the roof of a car in the water, and a man alongside it, up to his neck in water. He stopped and ran to the slipway before taking off his shoes and diving in. It was only when he swam out that he discovered he knew the family in the car.

“I didn’t think, I just jumped in,” he said.

“I could see the small kids inside, and their eyes, and they were scratching at the window.

Injuries sustained to Piotr's arm during the rescue
Injuries sustained to Piotr's arm during the rescue

“Everybody was crying, everybody was screaming. The mother was screaming, ‘help, help, help’.”

The men decided to grab the partially open passenger window, put their feet against the door, and yank the window towards them, at full force, before it finally shattered.

Mr Smolenski reached inside and rescued one child, placing the child on his chest and swimming on his back towards the slipway where onlookers, who had formed a human chain, took the child.

With the water just inches from the roof of the car, he swam back out to rescue the second child.

“I shouted to the woman, ‘It’s all right — I’ll be back for you’,” he said.

Another man who lives on the terrace jumped in to help as Mr Smolenski pulled the mother out as the car sank below the surface. The dog managed to swim free seconds later.

Mr Smolenski suffered several cuts to his right forearm, his stomach, and legs during the rescue. Mr Waszczewski also suffered several injuries.

“We had just seconds to help. I would urge other people to do the same thing. When you see people in trouble, just help. I’m still in shock, but I’m OK and delighted that everyone is safe,” he said.

The family was taken to hospital for observation and all are expected to make a full recovery from their ordeal.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner


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