JDF SOLDIER RESCUES WOMEN AFTER CAR PLUNGES INTO RIVER
"I always loved fishing. I could always swim. And I always wanted to be a soldier. I think that it was destiny that those three things came together to put me in the right place at the right time to save those women on Monday".
By his own admission, 32-year-old Lance Corporal Octavia Brooks is
not really a religious man. But as he recounts the events of Monday January 13, 2014 in the Bog Walk Gorge, which left three women struggling to stay afloat in the murky Rio Cobre after their car sank, there's no doubt in his mind that God wanted him to be there to save those women.
"It was just by fate that I was in the gorge on Monday. I was on leave from the JDF and had planned to do some fishing in the area the next day when a friend of mine asked me to pick him up in Spanish Town. On the way in from Bog Walk, the traffic was moving very slowly and at one point I was even tempted to overtake a white Corona in front of me. But I thought against it and decide to make my way in slowly."
That's when I saw a white Toyota Wish overtaking a line of traffic heading towards Linstead and from what I could see, he was not going to make it. I stopped to make space for him to pull in but he was too close and ended up hitting my right front fender cover lamp and bumper. The impact also blew out my right tire. The Toyota Wish swiped my car and then slammed into a Mitsubishi Lancer that was in the line of traffic it was overtaking".
As Lance Corporal Brooks sought to stop his car and look about the damage to his fender, a more immediate concern suddenly loomed. The Mitsubishi was knocked off the road and climbed the embankment separating the road from a precipitous drop into the Rio Cobre below.
"The Lancer flew over the embankment and went straight down into the river. One of my passengers shouted 'look, the car (has) gone into the river', and immediately, I pulled up the handbrake and struggled to come out of the car as the damage made the driver door difficult to open. By the time I got out and made it to the edge of the embankment, I saw the women on top of the car struggling to stay afloat as the car sank gradually."
"The car sank completely within 2 minutes or so and the women were trying desperately to stay afloat. I could tell that none of them could swim. Instinctively, I dipped into my pockets and removed my phone and keys, kicked off my shoes and jumped into the water. I swam to the closest woman and grabbed her from behind. It was loud and chaotic. The women were screaming. Other motorists had stopped to look and it seemed the whole world was shouting to me. My heart was pounding but I kept wondering how many of them were in the vehicle."
"When I pulled the first one to safety, someone shouted, 'see the old woman sinking'. I then started to go back for her when someone threw a length of rope and a life jacket to me so I that I was able to bring them in together. They were hysterical, screaming and panicking and so I asked one of them, how many of them were in the water. When she said three, I was very relieved as I did not want to dive as I had no gears and it was getting dark."
"Once they were pulled to safety and had calmed down a bit, they couldn't stop thanking me for saving them. But to be honest, I was just as thankful that they had escaped the vehicle before it went down, because if they hadn't, I would have had to dive for them and believe me, I did not want to do that," he laughed.
"The water was at least 20 feet deep. I know this because when the wrecker crew arrived, they asked for my assistance in getting the car out. I first went in feet first to test the depth of the water. When I managed to hit the car, I was about three times my height underwater. When I came up, I took the chain and went back to hook it to the car, this time head first. This second time however, my ears started to hurt, which told me that I was very, very deep underwater. By that time too, two other divers from the area came to the scene and offered to help."
"They started to tell the wrecker crewmen that 'the last time they did something like this, not even thanks they got' and since the lives were already saved they wanted payment to help retrieve the car. By that time though, my ears hurt so bad that I just left them to sort it out.'
Lance Corporal Brooks also recounted that "the ladies were so shocked, I don't even know if they knew who took them out of the water. My priority after getting them out was to take them to a hospital. A bus was passing and took them presumably to the Linstead hospital.
He also noted that the entire ordeal lasted about 3-4 mins or less and that his first thought was "how can I help?" When he saw them on the vehicle however he knew that he "had to go for them as there was no one else who could".
"As a soldier people look up to you to do certain things", he says. "That encouraged me to go for them knowing that this was what soldiers do. So really, I was just doing my job. More than anything though, I think it was the sight of three women drowning that pushed me. There's no way I could have stood by and let this happen."
The affable Lance Corporal Brooks noted that he was always a good swimmer since his days at Linstead All Age and Dinthill Technical High schools. 'I was always a good swimmer so I passed all the JDF swim tests. I am an Infanteer by trade but I always wanted to be a lifeguard in the JDF. I think that maybe now they will certify me" he jokes.
"As I came in to work today, everyone was hailing me and calling me hero. I do consider what I did, to be heroic, but at the time, my only motivation for jumping in was that I just couldn't stand and watch these women die. So today when I got in to Camp, I just went back to my regular routine, which is being a section commander on JDF operations in support of the police."
'I haven't spoken to the women since, as their phones went down with the vehicle. But I'd really love to see them again because I'm desperate to find out how they got out of the car so quickly and thank them for it because it made my job so much easier" he chuckles.
Behind the easygoing demeanor though, the nine-year member of the JDF is also a bit philosophical:
"I always loved fishing. I always loved swimming. But somehow, I always wanted to be a soldier. Today I know why God gave me that desire'.