Axminster man’s bravery award

Axminster man Charles May who saved two pensioners from drowning. Photo by Chris Carson Axminster man Charles May who saved two pensioners from drowning. Photo by Chris Carson

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
8:20 AM

Musician risked his life to save an elderly couple trapped in their car by raging flood water

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The pensioners' car trapped in floodwaterThe pensioners' car trapped in floodwater

An Axminster man who risked his life to save an elderly couple trapped in their car by raging floodwater has been awarded one of the country’s top bravery honours.

Charles May, aged 45, of Greendown House, Greendown, is to receive a Royal Humane Society testimonial on vellum personally signed and approved by its president Princess Alexandra.

The horror incident in which Mr May stood waist deep in swirling flood waters holding on to the couple’s car to save it from being swept away with them inside happened in a lane near Langport, on the Somerset Levels, during January’s devastating floods.

This week, in addition to the award he is to receive, Mr May also won the personal praise of Dick Wilkinson, secretary of the Royal Humane Society.

He said: “Put simply, Mr May was the right person in the right place at the right time. He put his own life on the line to save this couple. Things could so easily have gone wrong and he and the couple could have been drowned.”

Mr Wilkinson said that the rain on the bitterly cold day was “horizontal.”

The car carrying Anthony Fleet, 84, and his wife Patricia, 82, of East Chinnock, Yeovil, had passed Mr May earlier when it turned down a country lane.

It finished up entering an 18 inch deep puddle which made the engine cut out.

Mr Wilkinson continued: “By then they were 75 yards from dry land. Earlier when they passed Mr May he was concerned for their safety and decided to wait to see if they came back up the lane.

“When they did not he reversed his own vehicle back to check they were alright and saw their car which had been moved by the wind and the strong flow of the water and was floating with the rear end uppermost and drifting.

“With no thought for his own safety he waded out into the flood water and by the time he reached their car he was waist deep. He and the car could have fallen into ditches which were eight to ten feet deep. However, he struggled to hold the car and at the same time called the emergency services.

“He then held on to the vehicle for 15 minutes until the fire service arrived and discovered that the couple were trapped inside by the central locking system. The water level in the car was rising at a rate of around an inch a minute.

“In the end fire fighters wearing dry suits managed to secure the car and get the couple out and to a waiting ambulance.

“Mr May’s actions that day were truly heroic and he richly deserves the award he is to receive.”

Mr May, a professional musician, told The Herald he only did what anyone else would have done.

“The emergency services do this sort of thing every day and I don’t think anyone would have done anything different from me,” he said.

“I had been surfing in Cornwall two days before so I was used to cold water.”

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