Toddler saved from drowning by quick-thinking boater

Canal rescue...Riki Wittal, who pulled a toddler from the canal at Welford and (picture below) showing how she leant over the side of her narrowboat to pull the child up (pictures taken at Kibworth by Alison Bagley).
Canal rescue...Riki Wittal, who pulled a toddler from the canal at Welford and (picture below) showing how she leant over the side of her narrowboat to pull the child up (pictures taken at Kibworth by Alison Bagley).

A DROWNING toddler was pulled from the murky depths of a canal thanks to the quick-thinking actions of a narrowboater.

Lifesaver Riki Kittel looked over the side of her boat after hearing something fall in the water and reacted in horror as she was met with the sight of a child’s face sinking away from her.

Canal Rescue: Welford Wharf: narrowboat owner Riki Kittel on her boat Chelsea. Riki was sitting at her window when she heard a splash. She looked out and down into the water where she saw a boy's face under the surface. She reached out and eventually grabbed hold of his arm and dragged him to safety. 'Tuesday 18th September 2012

Canal Rescue: Welford Wharf: narrowboat owner Riki Kittel on her boat Chelsea. Riki was sitting at her window when she heard a splash. She looked out and down into the water where she saw a boy's face under the surface. She reached out and eventually grabbed hold of his arm and dragged him to safety. 'Tuesday 18th September 2012

Thrusting her arm out as far as she could reach, she managed to grab the boy’s hand and pull him to safety.

“Another six inches away from me and I wouldn’t have reached him,” Mrs Kittel told the Mail.

“He was so close to drowning. he was sinking as I watched. It was so scary.”

Mrs Kittel and her husband Clive had moored their 60ft narrowboat Chelsea at Welford Wharf on the Grand Union on Saturday when the incident occurred.

“My husband was in the back of the boat and I was sitting in the saloon at about 5pm when suddenly there was a bang and a splash,” said Mrs Kittel.

“I thought it might be our cat so I opened the side panel and looked down. There was nothing there. I looked to the front and the back and couldn’t see anything.

“Then I looked down again and about three feet under the water there was the face of a small child looking up at me.

“I lent out and tried to reach him. He had his right arm up and I managed to grasp his wrist with my left hand. I had to push the boat away from the bank with my right arm to pull him out.”

Mrs Kittel shouted out to the boy’s parents, who were walking along the towpath, and they took him away.

The child, who Mrs Kittel estimates was aged about 16 months, was screaming but seemed otherwise okay, she said.

The Kittels, a retired couple who live in Bristol but spend six months of the year touring Britain’s waterways on their narrowboat, decided to tell the Mail the story in a bid to highlight the dangers of the water.

Boater David Thomas died in February 2009 after falling into the canal at Welford Wharf and mrs Jittel said she remembered an incident last summer in which a 13-year-old boy died after falling into a lock in Stourport, Worcestershire.

“I think about what could have happened on Saturday,” she said.

“What if I hadn’t paid attention to the bang? Or he had gone under the boat? It was just luck that I was able to reach him.

“People need to realise how dangerous water is and how quick you can drown.”

Mrs Kittel’s calls were backed this week by the Canal and River Trust, which promotes water safety through its SAFE (Stay Away From the Edge) campaign.

A spokesman said: “Canals are a real haven for people and nature and have something to offer everyone, from walkers and cyclists to boaters and anglers, families on days out and those wanting to enjoy being outside in the fresh air.

“Although the water may look inviting, any open body of water can pose a hazard, particularly to unsupervised children.

“Canals, rivers and reservoirs are not suitable places for swimming as they may have hidden dangers lurking beneath the water that could cause serious injury if someone was to jump in.

“The Canal & River Trust would like to remind visitors to the waterways to stay SAFE by remembering to Stay Away From the Edge when near the water.”