A YOUNG mechanic was today hailed a hero after diving into the canal to rescue a drowning pensioner.
Stuart Banks dropped his spanners and raced up the towpath to plunge, still in his overalls, into freezing waters in Lower Wallgate, Wigan.
Moments earlier the 21-year-old had been working on a vehicle at Seven Stars MOT Centre off Seven Stars Road when he heard desperate muffled screams coming from the neighbouring Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
He found a woman, in her early 70s, had plunged into the water and was clearly in a great deal of difficulty. Her walking stick found nearby.
She is believed to have been on a ramble when she toppled into the canal, possibly because of the uneven mud and stone-strewn state of the towpath at this point.
The victim, who was only semi-conscious from cold when former St Jude’s ARLFC and Halifax rugby league pro Stuart launched his brave rescue, was rushed to Wigan infirmary where her condition is said to be “confortable.”
His proud grandma Carol King, who co-owns the garage, said: “It is typical of Stuart that he dived straight in without any thought for himself to save this old lady.
“He’s a real hero because as soon as he heard her scream he was straight off, running up the towpath to see what was wrong.”
Brave Stuart said that he was alerted to the pensioner’s distress by her screams which were loud enough to be heard over the garage’s pop radio.
He ran down Seven Stars Road in the direction of the alarming sounds before spotting the woman’s bright outdoor coat and the collapsed form of the woman in the canal.
Stuart, who lives in Hawkley Hall, said that, with nobody else around, he leapt straight in.
He said: “As I got closer I could see that she was rolling about in the canal trying to grab hold of the side.
“I threw my keys and phone on the towpath and jumped straight in.
“Then it was a matter of pushing her up back onto the towpath and out of the canal.
“You can’t stand up in the canal here because it is all thick mud and stuff and there is no way she would have made it on her own.
“You don’t think in these circumstances: you just jump in and do your best like everybody would do.
“I’m an angler so I often end up getting wet but I was quite shocked how cold the canal was here ... it was a lot chillier than I was expecting and it didn’t taste very nice either!
“She had a walking coat on and may be that had helped to stop her getting hypothermia.
“I didn’t really get any conversation out of her, she was a bit drowsy, she was really white and had her eyes closed.
“But I reckon she may have tripped and fallen in here because the towpath is in a bad state.
“By this time my Nan had come running up the towpath and she phoned the police and the ambulance and it was good that they were here so quick because she looked in a bad way.”