Israeli rowing champion Yasmin Feingold, 20, was seriously injured early yesterday evening when her boat overturned in Tel Aviv's Yarkon River, submerging her head in its polluted water and causing her to lose consciousness.
A passerby who noticed the overturned vessel rushed into the water to free Feingold, who was rushed to the city's Ichilov Hospital in serious condition.
"I was jogging east from Reading [Power Station], and next to the sailing club I saw a woman rowing," said Avi Toibin, 62, of Herzliya. "After a few minutes I saw a bunch of people standing on the riverbank yelling 'Call the police!' and when I looked towards the water I saw the boat had overturned and the woman had disappeared."
Toibin, a water-sports enthusiast who several years ago saved another individual from drowning, rushed into the water.
"I took off my shoes and my shirt, and started swimming towards her," he said. "When I got to the boat I saw that she was fastened to it by her shoes, and that she was unconscious underwater. When I lifted her head above the water I saw foam coming out of her mouth, and I hoped she still had a chance."
Magen David Adom crews called to the scene performed resuscitation procedures on the rower and were able to revive her pulse and breathing before transporting her to Ichilov.
"I was very afraid to jump into the water, and now I'm even more afraid," Toibin said. "It's a shame that before I arrived no one else who was there did anything - maybe her condition could have been better."
An Ichilov spokeswoman said Feingold was unconscious, on artificial respiration and being treated in intensive care.
The Yarkon has been severely polluted for decades, a result of increased waste disposal in its stream and reduced natural water replenishment. Efforts to improve the river's water quality were launched only in recent years.
In 1997 four members of the Australian delegation to the Maccabiah Games were killed and 60 injured when a temporary pedestrian bridge collapsed over the Yarkon and they ingested toxic chemicals in its water.