Volunteer crew members from Lowestoft RNLI Lifeboat Station were involved in the dramatic rescue of 11 people yesterday (Sunday) from a boat that sank in a matter of minutes.
The dramatic incident unfolded when the crew of a 33ft diving boat was making its way back into Lowestoft Harbour, and suddenly began taking on water. One of those onboard later described how fast the waters rose as ‘going past his ankles and knees in a matter of seconds.’
The volunteer crew happened to be returning to the lifeboat station at 12.10pm after their regular Sunday morning training exercise, aboard the all-weather lifeboat Spirit of Lowestoft, when they saw the diving boat began to sink around a quarter of a mile north east of the harbour. The crew spotted the dive boat in trouble in choppy sea conditions, with a southerly force four wind.
Four people were trapped in the wheelhouse as the boat sunk by the stern, but fortunately managed to escape through a small wheelhouse window. All 11 people on board were safely rescued from the sea by the lifeboat crew, with four people subsequently taken to hospital for treatment for diesel ingestion and shock.
John Fox, coxswain of Lowestoft RNLI Lifeboat Station, praised the swift actions of his six-strong crew, describing the rescue as ‘a great job done by the town’s lifeboat.’
Mr Fox said: ‘We left at 10am and were out on an exercise helming with the crew. We actually saw the dive boat as it left, and as we were coming back at about noon we saw the boat again. It looked like he was coming in, and hadn’t actually been for the dive, but it was in a bit of trouble. The next thing it was down at the stern and they were baling out.
‘You could see four of the guys in the wheelhouse, with their faces by the glass, they must have been terrified. There was no Mayday call – it was sheer luck that we were there at the time.’
He added: ‘If they had been further offshore it could’ve been a different story - it was as lucky as that really.’
Later on the same day lifeboat returned to the dive boat, as it drifted with the flood tide. After initially getting stuck on a sandbank, it quickly drifted past the town’s harbour and by the evening had ended up past Ness Point, with the underside of the bow of the boat still visible.
‘I have been on the lifeboat for more than 20 years and I have never had to rescue that many people in one go like that,’ said John. ‘I would like to pay tribute to my crew, who included trainees. They were very disciplined and worked well together throughout the major incident. The guys in the water stayed calm and it seems their diver training helped them.
'I also want to thank the ambulance service and Coastguards for their important role when we landed the survivors.'
RNLI Divisional Inspector Andrew Ashton said: 'The RNLI invests a great deal in the high quality training of our volunteer lifeboat crew members, and in return our volunteers make a massive commitment to the charity. Sunday's incident perfectly encapsulates this quality and this commitment.
'Our volunteers are always ready to respond, and it is clear that the Lowestoft crew kicked straight into action upon seeing a vessel in distress. Within seconds they had gone from a routine training exercise into full scale rescue mode, and the positive outcome of their efforts speaks for itself.
'On behalf of myself and the wider RNLI charity I offer my thanks and praise to the crew.'
● Lowestoft RNLI lifeboat launched to a second incident on Sunday afternoon following reports that a yacht had run aground on a sandbank south of the town. The crew were called out at 5pm to the yacht, with two people on board, which had damaged its rudder on the sandbank. Lowestoft RNLI lifeboat crew towed the yacht into the harbour, arriving at about 6.25pm.
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