Johan Koekemoer, a South African teacher living in Taipei, yesterday said not panicking was the key after he rescued a man who had driven a car into a pond in New Taipei City’s Tamsui District (淡水) last week.
Koekemoer’s former students recognized him in a video circulating on social media showing a white Bentley sedan half-submerged in the water, with him towing the driver toward the bank.
“After the white car slid down into the water, the driver got out, but he was floundering and it was clear he could not swim. The foreigner was driving by, then he stopped his car, stripped down and jumped into the water,” a worker who witnessed the rescue said on Saturday.
The incident took place on Thursday morning in the Pingding (坪頂) area, and the Bentley driver was identified as a 46-year-old surnamed Wu (吳).
The witness said that, as he is not a good swimmer, he did not try to rescue Wu, adding: “That foreigner is very brave.”
Koekemoer, 47, and his wife have been living in Taiwan for 12 years.
Koekemoer said that he was taking his children to a daycare center when the incident happened.
“I saw the car slide down and as soon as he fell into the water, he probably realized it was deep, so he wasn’t able to stand there. So he tried to grab onto the car — eventually he got hold of the mirror,” Koekemoer said.
“So immediately we saw he definitely could not swim, and it was pretty deep. That’s when I jumped into the water, because I thought the immediate thing I could do was to get close to him,” Koekemoer said.
He said that he had taken water safety classes in college as part of his physical education curriculum.
“After reaching the vehicle, I just waited with him while the car was still floating. I shouted to my wife to find a rope in my car,” Koekemoer told the Taipei Times yesterday.
“In the meantime I was kind of paddling and trying to get the car closer to shore, as it would make everything easier — saving the man and getting car out later,” he said. “During this time, another guy arrived, he threw a life buoy toward us. I swam to get it, then let the guy hold on to the buoy and swam out with him.”
“When I got to the guy, I didn’t want to swim with him immediately, as he didn’t speak English and I couldn’t tell him what to do,” he said. “I thought he might panic and then it would be a very tough rescue.”
“I just had to be close to him in case something happened ... then I’ll be with him to help. If I wasn’t close to him and he goes under water, it’ll be hard to find him since the water is very dirty,” Koekemoer said.
Wu later told reporters that the Bentley belongs to his boss, who had told him to pick up a business associate.
He was smoking at the time, but had lowered his eyes to put out the cigarette, Wu said.
He did not see the road clearly and thought he had arrived at an intersection, so he pulled the steering wheel to make a right turn, but the car was next to a fish pond and slid into the water, he said.
Some people online have called Koekemoer a hero, while others have said the government should give him an award for his bravery.
Additional reporting by Grant Dexter
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