Seeing Three Drowning Women, This Quick-Thinking Waiter Dove Into the Icy River

Despite having no lifesaving training, Paul Blachut knew he had to everything he could to rescue them.

Cold Water Rescue - Paul BlachutMichael Hochgemuth
Paul Blachut sits by the Lech river in Augsburg, Germany.

At the Flosslände restaurant in scenic Augsburg, Germany, waiter Paul Blachut is busy at work. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon in May 2021 and many cyclists and hikers have come for refreshments at this pretty place beside the Lech river.

From behind the bar, Blachut, 24, has a good view of the river; there are stone steps that stretch some 20 metres down from the restaurant to the riverbank. He can see that, along the S-shaped shore, people are picnicking and children are playing. Many are cooling their feet in the river. The meltwater from the Alps means the water is very cold at this time of year, and it flows quickly.

Among those enjoying the cooling water are a mother and her two teenage daughters, all in long dresses. They’re standing on the edge of the riverbank, playing with an inflatable tube when, suddenly, the girls lose their footing and are caught in the river’s current.

It all happens so fast. The girls desperately grab on to the tube, which their mother is sitting in, plunging her into the river, too. Now all three are being carried away by the current.

A bystander races up the steps to the restaurant, and Blachut looks up from his work when he hears the shout: “I think three people are drowning in the Lech!”

Blachut can only see an inner tube bobbing in the river. Then he spots the three women a short distance away, flapping their arms, trying to grasp anything they can. Blachut’s mind races. Why isn’t anyone helping them? Horrified, he sees that one of the trio keeps sinking.

Despite having no lifesaving training, he sprints down to the riverbank, quickly taking his cell phone, wallet and keys from his pockets and pulling off his T-shirt. Then he jumps into the river. He doesn’t care about the cold; all he can think about is saving the women. It’s obvious they are helpless.

As Blachut gets closer to them, he can tell that the mother seems to be in the most trouble; her head is now submerged. She is drowning.

He recalls a movie in which a lifeguard grabs a drowning victim around the torso, pulling the person ashore while swimming on his back. Blachut tries this, but the woman’s clothing makes her so heavy; he keeps being dragged under, too. He needs a new plan.

Improvising, Blachut dives under the drowning woman, pushing her upward and using that momentum to hurl her toward the shore. He can’t recall if it took three, four or five thrusts, but at some point, an onlooker is able to get close enough to grab the woman’s hand, pulling her to shore.

Blachut knows he needs to rescue the two daughters—and they are now further down the river. He plunges into the current again, swims quickly downstream and manages to get hold of one. He propels her toward the shore in the same way he did her mother, and is able to get her out, too.

Looking back to the river, he can see someone is helping the girl’s sister—which is a good thing because the teenager in front of him is unconscious.

As Blachut gently lays her down, a bystander with medical training comes forward and attends to her. An ambulance arrives about five minutes later. Thankfully, it’s not long before she is conscious again and reunited with her grateful sister and mother.

Several onlookers expressed their admiration for Blachut following the incident, but he is modest about his role. “The whole rescue only took two or three minutes,” he says today, adding that he is happy to have received high praise from his boss for his courage. Indeed, it was a job very well done.

Next, read this incredible survival story about a man who lived through a lion mauling.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada