Drama in choppy waters as auxiliary cop's quick wit saves drowning woman in Penang

GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It was a MacGyver moment on the second Penang bridge when an auxiliary policeman, seeing a woman struggling in the waters below, emptied a five-litre jerrycan tied to his waist for her to use as an emergency flotation device while he rappelled down.

Luckily, the jerrycan was enough to keep the woman afloat until a fishing boat came to the rescue.

Bridge patrolman Zaidi Salleh, 52, had lashed the container to his waist belt and tied a car-towing strap to a lamp post on the bridge as the woman screamed for help.

He slid down the towing strap to get closer to the water before diving feet first and swimming to the woman.

Zaidi's quick thinking to use the jerrycan helped him keep the woman and himself afloat until they were rescued.

Zaidi, who was once attached to Handau (Royal Malaysian Air Force Ground Defence Regiment), said he was relieved upon seeing a fisherman's boat coming their way after 40 minutes in the water.

"At first we were both holding on to the jerrycan but it could not support both of us.

"I decided to give the jerrycan to the woman as she was crying and tense.

"I had to stay afloat on my own. I told her to stay strong and life is precious," he said.

Zaidi's immediate superior, Jambatan Kedua Sdn Bhd (JKSB) traffic safety manager Zaini Hashim, said Zaidi and his partner Mohammad Fitri Abu Bakar were in the second unit responding to the emergency after patrolman Megat Taufik Megat Kamaruddin first spotted the 28-year-old woman's empty car on the bridge at about 11am on Wednesday (April 18).

"The jerrycan is usually filled with water to help drivers with overheated engines while the towing strap is also for helping motorists," said Zaini.

In a two-minute, 32-second video taken by a fisherman and posted on Facebook, the boat crew is seen taking precious minutes to search for Zaidi and the woman as they floated into the open sea.

The woman, clad in a black tudung, black trousers and a black-and-white blouse, is heard crying uncontrollably while muttering "tak mahu balik" (I don't want to go back) repeatedly as she is being pulled up onto the boat.

The video also shows that she has a backpack and her spectacles on. She is believed to be from Permatang Pauh on the mainland.

Zaidi looks visibly exhausted after being hauled on board, his jerrycan still lashed to his waist.

A man's voice, believed to be that of Zaidi's, can be heard consoling the woman as the boat returns to shore.

JKSB corporate communications deputy senior manager Azizi Azizan said Zaidi, a father of three, is a former serviceman in the Royal Malaysian Air Force and a licensed scuba diver.

"Using the jerrycan is not our standard procedure. Zaidi just thought it up in the spur of the moment," Azizi said, adding that the patrolman was recovering and helping with police investigations.