Local hero saves girl from drowning at Bedford River Festival

Image: John Robb
Image: John Robb

A father of three was branded a ‘hero’ after saving a little girl from drowning at Bedford River Festival on Saturday 22 July.

John Robb, from Hatch in Sandy, was waiting for two of his children and nephew to finish on the zorb when another child fell from it into the middle of the river. It was John’s natural instincts that saved her life.

John said: “I thought someone would jump in and save her. She was in the water a good few seconds, there were hundreds of people there and nothing was happening.

“I don’t think anyone saw her; she fell underneath it [the zorb]. I brought it to the attention of the lifeguards, and they went to go and grab a rope.

“There wasn’t enough time for that so natural instinct took over. I didn’t actually think to be honest with you, I just went for it.”

People were screaming but John dived in fully clothed and swam about 15 metres to the panicking girl. He didn’t even have time to take his trainers off. He said: “There wasn’t enough time to do anything really. I wasn’t expecting to jump in.”

It was only when he got to her, he realised the enormity of his task.

He said: “I dived in and, when I got to her, I wasn’t sure I was going to be strong enough to bring the two of us back. I’d never done this before. Lucky enough I figured out a technique to do it. This all happened in seconds.”

His life-saving ‘technique’ involved holding the little girl above his head while he slowly trod water back to the riverbank. He lifted her out and handed her to her distressed mother, who thanked him. John thinks she may have been checked out by paramedics following her ordeal.

As he climbed out of the water, shock set in. “I was shaking,” he said. “I was still in a little bit of shock. I was just happy the little girl was ok. I was very nervous over what happened.

“I wasn’t worried about me or anything, it was just a frightening thing. When I got out, I was shaking. I wasn’t expecting to be in the river.”

At this point, John’s children were still on the zorb. He told staff to reel them back in and told them to get off.

There has been criticism posted online regarding the safety and organisation of the zorbing.

A spokesperson for River Festival organisers Bedford Borough Council said: “We can confirm that a child fell into the river out of an inflatable zorb at this year’s River Festival.

“We’d like to record our thanks to the quick actions of the person and for their assistance.

“Staff from the company were on hand, an incident report was completed, and we
understand the company had the full level of safety precautions in place for the event, including three lifeguards in attendance and first aid, which was not required.”

There has been a huge reaction to John’s heroics across social media. Facebook users have praised him as a ‘hero’ and likened him to a superhero.

John is a little overwhelmed by all the attention. He has an incredibly humble take on what happened saying: “it went a bit mad on social media, didn’t it? I think it’s gone a little bit out of proportion, to be honest.

“I imagine anybody would have done the same, you would have hoped so. There were lots of people there.”

John thinks he may have been the one to react because he had the best access. The incident happened near the bridge 200 metres or so from Cineworld.

“There were three people on the bridge, it was right next to the bridge as you cross over, and I had access to it,” he said.

John moved to Hatch in Sandy last year.

He attended the river festival for a family day out and as a way of meeting new people. He was not expecting to go for a swim.

His main concern was for his phone rather than his personal safety. It was in his pocket when he jumped in but miraculously survived the ordeal.

John said: “I own my own business (B&M Drives and Patios). If I lose my phone, that’s my whole business. I could lose work.”

He was due to go out for dinner with friends that evening but cancelled as he wasn’t in the right frame of mind after his ordeal. Instead, he treated himself to a couple of well-earned pints at the pub.

Many people posted on Facebook saying they’d like to buy John a pint to thank him for his heroics. If you see him out and about, the Bedford Independent have been reliably informed his pint of choice is Stella or Moretti.