A wheelchair user from Brighton is searching for the people who saved her life on a trip to the beach this week so she can thank them.
Sally Whitney, 29, from Brighton Marina, and her carer, Zizi Linerpaite, were rescued by passers-by on Wednesday morning (14 September) after nearly drowning not far from the Marina.
Miss Whitney said that the drama unfolded when they went for a walk along the seafront with her assistance dog Ethan to see if it was warm enough to sunbathe.
She said: “The sea was too rough and the tide was too high so we went to head home. I had been at the beach with a friend and my dog Ethan the day before.
“Ethan lost his ball so I was showing Zizi where he had lost it at the top of a ramp on the undercliff path.
“I went to manoeuvre my wheelchair and it lost traction and started to slide down the ramp really fast.
“It plunged into the sea which was really deep. Zizi saw me whizzing past her and started to scream.
“She ran towards me but fell down and slipped down the ramp into the water behind me.”
Miss Whitney said that the wheelchair turned on its side as it went into the water and sank to the bottom.
She said that Miss Linerpaite, 27, from Hove, was also dragged further into the sea and said: “Zizi managed to grab my hand and tried to pull me to the rocks but I couldn’t hold on.”
Passer-by Terry Boyle, 67, and a couple who were cycling, Andrea and Ian Stokes, saw what was happening and tried to help.
Mr Boyle said: “I was walking from Rottingdean to the Marina when I saw a lady in a wheelchair going down the slipway unable to stop.
“The next second she was in the water so I ran down and managed to pull her out. By this time her friend was also in the sea and luckily another man (Ian Stokes) got in to help her. I’m so glad we were there.”
Miss Whitney remembers Mr Boyle trying to lift her on to the nearby rocks but she kept slipping back into the water.
She said: “At one point I was trying to cling to the rocks with my nails and when I eventually got on to them I saw Zizi trying to get my belongings that were floating in the water but this was taking her further into the sea.
“It was a horrible sight to see her being thrown against the rocks and going under the water. She was trying to take her shoes off at one point to help herself and I thought she was going to drown.”
Miss Whitney could also see her dog at the water’s edge and kept shouting at him to stay out of the sea.
The two cyclists, Andrea Stokes, 48, and husband Ian, 49, also rushed to help. Ian went into the water and to rescue Miss Linerpaite.
Another couple, Georgina Davies, 39, and Pete Briggs, 46, from Brighton, also went to help.
Miss Davies said: “Terry was in the water when Pete went down to help and I called the ambulance. Pete lifted Sally with another man. I’m just so please everyone is ok. It could have been so different.”
Miss Whitney was pulled on to the bottom of the ramp and Ian then managed to bring Miss Linerpaite to shore.
Mr Boyle cut his leg while helping Miss Whitney on to the ramp. He said: “I slipped between some big rocks when pulling Sally out of the water. I got some cuts which are now healing up.”
The tide was coming in and had reached the bottom of the ramp where they all were.
Miss Whitney had passed out and Miss Linerpaite told the men that this could lead to seizures due to Miss Whitney’s medical conditions. The two men lifted Miss Whitney to the top of the ramp on to a flat surface to recover.
Mrs Stokes recalls another lady helping Miss Whitney once she was at the top of the ramp – and Miss Whitney would like to find her.
Mrs Stokes said “The lady assisted Sally while she was on the floor at the top of the ramp and then helped us to drag the wheelchair from the rocks later that day when the tide was out. She was tall, 5ft 10in, slim, well-spoken, tanned and possibly worked within the NHS.”
Miss Whitney said that her dog was quite protective of her, nuzzling her to wake her up.
She said that she heard Spanish voices as she regained consciousness. Miss Whitney has so far been unable to trace the Spanish couple but would like to find them to thank them.
Mrs Stokes described the lady as about 5ft 5in tall, with dark shoulder-length hair and in her late twenties or early thirties. She is thought to be called Maria.
The man was about the same age, about 5ft 8in tall, with a muscular build, full beard and wearing a baseball cap. He knew first aid and put Miss Whitney into the recovery position.
When the ambulance arrived Miss Whitney was found to have a dislocated hip, shoulder and ankle so these were put back into place at the scene.
She said “I have Ehlers’ Danlof syndrome which is a connective tissue disease that affects my organs and muscular skeletal system so I often get dislocations.”
Miss Linerpaite didn’t suffer any injuries apart from extensive bruising. She swallowed a lot of water during the incident but did not need medical attention. The pair were able to return home by ambulance and have both recovered well.
Since then Miss Whitney has been in touch with some of the people who helped her. She found them on Facebook after writing a post asking for people to help her to find her rescuers.
She said: “They were incredibly brave and kind-hearted to have helped. Their heroism needs to be recognised and we would love to thank them.
“Andrea and Ian were here on their holidays from Wales and after helping me they continued their cycle to Rottingdean for coffee.
“On their way back to the hotel they stopped at the beach to try to collect some of my belongings from the water.
“They found the wheelchair and some key fobs and managed to drag the wheelchair on to the shore.”
A friend of Miss Whitney’s who was passing when the ambulance arrived saw the couple later and took their contact details and passed them on to Miss Whitney.
On Friday the couple visited Miss Whitney before the end of their holiday and were given flowers. Miss Whitney hopes to meet Mr Boyle to thank him and give him a present too.
The wheelchair went missing but it has since been located at the council’s beachfront offices. It was a borrowed chair while Miss Whitney’s was being repaired.
As well as the wheelchair, Miss Whitney lost her phone, wallet, emergency medication bag, glasses, dog toys and her house keys in the water.
She said: “I’m so grateful to the people who helped us and I feel very blessed as it could have been a lot worse. God was definitely looking out for us all that day.
“It was lucky that I wasn’t wearing my wheelchair seatbelt otherwise I would have drowned immediately.
“Ethan’s dog lead wasn’t attached to my wheelchair as I had let him off the lead, otherwise I would have lost him too.”
Miss Whitney said her black labrador cross golden retriever was given to her by Midhurst charity Canine Partners and he “is my legs and hands”.
She said: “I would be lost without him as he knows how to call people in an emergency, pulls the alarm cord in disabled toilets, get my clothes out, does the recycling, opens doors, gets things out of my handbag and lays next to me when I’ve had seizures.”
As well as her dog, Miss Whitney said that Miss Linerpaite had been a “constant source of support” for the past three years that she has been her personal assistant.
She said: “I’ve had a lot of serious health problems this year and Zizi has always been there. She tried to save me and she even came into work the next day.
“She is more like family to me than a colleague. My parents are on holiday in Greece at the moment and have sent Zizi some flowers as a thank you.”
Miss Linerpaite also wanted to thank her rescuers and said: “It’s amazing to know that people still care. I am so thankful for everything they did for us.”
If you recognise the description of the older lady or Spanish couple, email email@example.com.
Mrs Stokes has written her own account of what happened …
She said: “We originally planned a five-day holiday in Cornwall, however, made an impulsive decision that morning to change plans and visit Brighton instead.
“We hired cycles from the beach front at Brighton Pier and decided randomly to head east, along the Cliff route to Rottingdean.
“At about 11.15am we cycled past Sally in her wheelchair, with Zizi and Ethan at her side. They were at the top of the slipway overlooking the sea.
“Almost as soon as we passed them, I heard a lot of shouting. It made me stop, shout to my husband who was cycling in front of me, and we immediately saw the three of them were in trouble as we peered over the sea wall.
“Ian saw Sally’s chair heading at speed down the ramp, seemingly out of control. Ethan the dog and Zizi were chasing after her. Cycling back toward them, Ian could see Sally hit the water.
“Terry was already running to help them. We dropped our cycles at the top and ran down to the water.
“By now Terry was in the water, attempting to reach the girls, Ian slid on the algae straight into the sea, I lost my footing on the algae, realised I was terrified and in danger myself and knew I had to get myself to safety.
“Zizi threw Ian a bag which he threw to me, which I threw further up the ramp, I told him to pass me our phones from his pockets at the same time and after this he slid again further into the sea.
“I remember the waves battering the four of them towards the rocks then pulling them back. They were all struggling but I believe Terry managed to get hold of Sally and pulled her to the edge of the ramp.
“Ian was trying to help Zizi. She insisted she could manage but it was clear she needed help. A wave came and took Zizi under water and under a rock at which point Ian grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him.
“She said her shoes were preventing her getting a footing so she managed to take them off. Ian passed them to someone behind him and he helped her to clamber out of the sea via the rocks because they couldn’t get a grip on the algae.
“During time Ethan was in and out of the water trying to protect Sally and then laying by her side on the ramp.
“Everything happened so quickly. I managed to climb free of the algae, met Georgina at the top, explained what had just happened, because the wheelchair was nowhere to be seen.
“Pete climbed down to help, while Georgina promptly dialled for an ambulance. Ian stayed with Sally on the slipway after getting her a drink of water, keeping her talking to reassure and comfort her while we awaited an ambulance.
“Zizi telephoned Sally’s flatmate at the Marina explaining what had happened and that an ambulance had been called.
“An older lady appeared and was very helpful and the Spanish couple arrived, offering water to everyone who’d taken in sea water.
“The tide still appeared to be coming in, the waves still crashing against the slipway and we all decided Sally had to be moved to higher ground because of the danger of the sea and waves.
“I believe it was Ian, Pete, the Spanish man and the older lady who between them carried Sally to the top of the ramp and laid her in the shade. The Spanish guy placed her in the recovery position.
“The Spanish man continued to check Sally’s pulse and was concerned that it seemed low.
“She seemed to be alert one moment then out of it, as if she’d fainted, the next. We were all very concerned.
“We had nowhere to go to change so cycled up to Rottingdean to dry off for a few hours.
“We cycled back just after 2pm and, as we approached the same slipway, we could see the wheelchair further along on the rocks.
“We took a few photos and noticed the lady that had been there earlier was coincidentally cycling towards the same point to also take a look.
“We recognised each other and decided we would try to recover the chair before the tide came back in.
“It was so heavy, we almost gave up but between the three of us we managed to get it off the rocks and dragged it up the side of the slipway practically inch by inch, lift by lift, because the wheels had seized solid.
“We went back down to look for more of Sally’s possessions because she was so distressed about losing the chair and her belongings attached to it.
“We found her mobile, her glasses, and parts of the chair. We were just about to call the telephone number found on the chair and a girl, who I also recognised from earlier, cycled toward us and introduced herself as Annalise, Sally’s friend.
“We handed her everything we’d found and helped take more of the personal attachments from the chair for her to give to Sally. She took our telephone number so that Sally could contact us in the future.
“We were later contacted by Zizi to say Sally was not in hospital and recovering at home. This was good news.
“She invited us to Sally’s for tea so Friday morning before leaving it was lovely that we got to meet, putting our minds at rest that she was now well.”
Claire Jacobs writes the blog Confessions of a Single Parent Pessimist.
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