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Ellingham dentist's dramatic rescue

PUBLISHED: 08:33 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 14:48 14 July 2010

Saved - Robert Cobb.

Saved - Robert Cobb.

A retired dentist from Great Ellingham told this week of his remarkable survival as it was announced that two "selfless" divers would get a prestigious award for helping to rescue him when he fell unconscious during a dive.

A retired dentist from Great Ellingham told this week of his remarkable survival as it was announced that two “selfless” divers would get a prestigious award for helping to rescue him when he fell unconscious during a dive.

Robert Cobb was 20m down in cold water when he got into difficulties at Stoney Cove scuba centre at Stoney Stanton in Lincolnshire.

The 68-year-old said he had a stark choice - to “stay in the water and die, to ascend swiftly and die or to go to the surface gradually”.

With the help of experienced Norwich divers David Bowditch and Colin Hill, he made it to the surface, but then passed out.

Extraordinarily, after the pair raised the alarm, a rescue boat was on scene within 45 seconds.

And when Mr Cobb's lifeless body was taken ashore, there were three paramedics by the water who did resuscitation until the local air ambulance took over.

On Tuesday, the Royal Humane Society announced that Mr Bowditch, from Raymond Road, Hellesdon and Mr Hill, from Dalrymple Way, Norwich, would get a certificate of commendation for putting their lives on the line to save their fellow diver on July 6.

Mr Cobb, from Church Street, Great Ellingham, is studying for a PhD in rare underwater plants and was on his 41st dive, exploring a wreck.

He said: “When I got to the surface, that was it. I remember nothing until my wife told me I was in an ambulance.”

Mr Cobb's wife, Anne, and 13-year-old daughter, Suzanna, were also at the centre.

He was suffering from a rare case of pulmonary edema, in which his lungs became flooded with his own fluids - possibly because of the depth and the cold. He said: “I literally drowned in my own juice.”

He added: “The time it took for the centre staff to get me out of the water was remarkable. Then there happened to be three paramedics on the shore. I haven't won any money, but I've always been a lucky man.”

Dr Stuart Maitland-Knibb, one of the medics who arrived in the Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Rutland air ambulance, said: “He was dead. No heartbeat, no pulse. Nothing. Then all of a sudden he just came round. The way he recovered was amazing.”

The Royal Humane Society said Mr Bowditch and Mr Hill could have been seriously injured or killed by decompression sickness as they helped Mr Cobb to the surface.

Society secretary Dick Wilkinson said: “They were at a depth of 20m and 80m from the bank, when Mr Cobb suddenly appeared to collapse.”

He said they risked “decompression sickness” by surfacing quickly from such a depth. He acknowledged that others had played their part in bringing Mr Cobb back to life, but said: “But for the swift and selfless actions of the other two divers, he might not have made it. They richly deserve their awards.”

Mr Cobb, who had a practice in Norwich, has donated £500 to the air ambulance for “petrol money” and has had a reunion with his rescuers.

He said: “If David hadn't come up with me and inflated my jacket and raised the alarm, and if the two of them hadn't got my weights out, I wouldn't be here because I would've ended up face down in the water.”

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