WATCH: Van driver relives dramatic helicopter rescue from swollen river

A relieved delivery driver who had to be winched to safety after his van was trapped in a torrent of water at a swollen Northumberland ford admits he had a lucky escape.

Phil Lale was rescued yesterday afternoon by an RAF Boulmer Sea King helicopter after his vehicle became stuck in the fast-flowing River Coquet.

The van in the ford at Warkworth. Picture by Jane Coltman.

The van in the ford at Warkworth. Picture by Jane Coltman.

The 36-year-old, who works for Houghton-le-Spring-based DLC Express Freight Ltd and was delivering parcels in time for Christmas, admits he made the stupid decision of trying to pass through more than two-foot of water at the ford in Warkworth.

The front wheel of his van became trapped in a fish pass, which was hidden by the height of the river.

A dog walker called the emergency services shortly after 1.30pm and the Coastguard from Amble and Howick, as well as police, ambulance and fire and rescue crews, including the Swift Water Rescue Team, attended the scene.

Mr Lale, from Houghton-le-Spring, had to be airlifted from the vehicle by the RAF helicopter, which subsequently landed in a field nearby. Mr Lale was unhurt.

Van driver Phil Lale

Van driver Phil Lale

The water was so fierce, police took the decision to postpone an operation to salvage the van. The vehicle remained in the river overnight before being removed this morning during a three-hour-long recovery mission, which involved the Coastguard and Blyth-based Elco Vehicle Repair Centre.

Speaking from the scene today, Mr Lale admitted he was shaken up by the incident and added: “I do feel like I have had a lucky escape and I was relieved to be winched to safety.

“I made a stupid decision to try to cross the river. One of the wheels came off the raised platform on the ford and I got stuck.

“I have crossed that ford a number of times recently and as soon as I got on the raised part of it I realised that the water was deeper than it is normally and I realised I was in trouble when I couldn’t move forward or backward.

“I was in a 50-50 situation; do I try to go back or do I carry on? I probably made the wrong decision, but I was stuck in the moment. Besides, I don’t know if I could have reversed anyway. We will never know.”

Mr Lale was heading into Warkworth – his next stop was just a mile on from the ford – to deliver parcels when disaster struck. His satellite navigation system directed him through the ford. He was hoping to deliver the remaining parcels today.

DLC Director David Laverick said: “Mr Lale has had a lucky escape. The river was really deep and fast-flowing. He was very shocked.”

Shaun McKay, from Amble Coastguard, attended the scene on both days. He said: “The river was about two feet yesterday, meaning it was a foot higher than it is today.

“The river was fast-flowing and it would have made a difficult rescue if we had done it yesterday.”