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Whitstable: Stuck in mud

Two young teenagers were rescued from mud on the Isle of Sheppey, in a team effort by Whitstable RNLI’s volunteer crew, coastguard and other emergency services.

RNLI Whitstable: Stuck in mud, lifeboat attending a call out

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

The girls, aged 13 and 15 years, had been walking along the shores of Warden Bay to investigate an abandoned Second World War bunker they’d seen the previous day. Taking what they thought would be a shortcut across the beach; they wandered into deep, soft mud that had fallen from the surrounding cliffs.

Initially, the pair found it funny to watch each other squelching and stumbling around, trying to come unstuck, but they soon realised they were unable to pull their wellies out and were sinking fast.

Chloe, the older of the two rescued girls, dialled 999. ‘At first we were laughing because it was just our feet stuck. But we quickly realised we weren’t going to get out and we became so scared that the tide would come in and drown us,’ she later explained.

With fire and rescue crews unable to reach the girls by land, a lifeboat was needed to ferry the rescuers by sea instead.

Luckily, the two youngsters were stuck just above the high water mark (to where the tide comes in) so despite being cold and slightly embarrassed when their rescuers pulled them out, they were mostly unharmed.

However, the dangerous, sticky mud is a regular source of call-outs for the RNLI and emergency services in the area.

Whitstable Lifeboat Operations Manager Mike Judge has volunteered with the RNLI for 40 years and holds an MBE for his relentless work saving lives at sea. He explains: ‘The cliffs around Whitstable are made of clay and when there’s been rain or frost, they crumble away and deposit a good thick layer of mud down onto the beach.

'This quickly crusts over so it looks like solid earth, but of course it’s not – it’s cold, wet, gooey and deep just below the hard surface, and it sucks you in so you can’t move. They’re not regular cliffs and it’s not regular mud; it’s deceptive and very dangerous.

‘Quite often, we see dog walkers or youngsters out fishing who, assuming the ground is still as safe as it was the week before, walk out and get stuck. If they’re further out towards the water than these two girls were, they’re in serious trouble when the tide starts to come in.’

‘Mud’s always been a problem here’

In his 40 years as an RNLI crew member, Mike Judge has conducted his fair share of mud rescues in Whitstable, including that of a young man out looking for salvageable metal in the same bunker Chloe and her friend were trying to reach.

Local emergency services carry specialist kit such as inflatable walkways and high-pressure water or air hoses, which counteract the vacuum effect of mud, but they still have to call on the lifeboat crews to get them where casualties need them most.

Mike says: ‘The cliffs around here seem to be eroding more rapidly each year, so I expect we will be involved in many more beach rescues. It’s important we maintain our close working relationship with the emergency services because that cooperation is vital to ensure shouts are attended quickly, with the right expertise and equipment for the job.’

Of course not all Mike’s most memorable rescues have been such sticky problems. Since the age of 17 when he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the lifeboat crew, he’s seen a variety of unusual problems occur on water.

Perhaps his most vivid involved a Norwegian seaplane whose pilot, caught out by the onset of evening, was obliged to put down in the Swale. Mike says: ‘We had to tow the plane to a safe mooring but he could only taxi at 5 knots or 50 knots so we were pulling him along at top speed in the pitch black.’

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