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‘I just wanted to drift away and go to sleep’

At the RNLI, courage saves lives. Training saves lives. Seamanship saves lives. And sometimes, there’s a stroke of luck as well. David Stocks owes his life to three Conwy volunteers who were in the right place at the right time.

‘I just wanted to drift away and go to sleep’

Photo: RNLI/Danielle Rush

31 January 2015, 12.15pm. It was a windy and cold afternoon in Conwy Marina, with a large swell and an outgoing tide. David needed to pick up some tools from his yacht. But while trying to board, he slipped.

Meanwhile, Conwy lifeboat crew member Alan Flood was standing outside his house, waiting for a friend to pick him up so they could go to a football match. A few doors down, Greg Donald and Peter Hughes were doing some plumbing work on a house Greg owns and rents out. Luckily for David, both houses are very close – just a minute’s journey – to the local RNLI lifeboat station.

Spotted ...

David’s first piece of good luck that day was that someone spotted him falling in. He threw a lifering and held on tight. The second piece of good luck was that someone else saw this all happening from a boat overlooking the pontoon. The second onlooker phoned it in, and within minutes the Conwy crew’s pagers went off.

Alan recalls: ‘I ran down to the station and Greg and Peter were already there. We knew it was serious. We were like: “Get your kit on now, we need to go, there’s someone in the water.”

‘We had an idea where it was, so we launched straight away and when we saw him in the water he didn’t look in the best way. He was just white.’

They reached him just in the nick of time. David says: ‘I’m not the kind of person to give up, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t hold on any more. I just didn’t have enough strength.

‘I was in for 12 minutes and I felt every single second. It felt like an incredibly long time. At one point I looked at my hands and they were white; there was no life left. Everything I had just wanted to drift away and go to sleep.

‘I can only describe the experience as how you feel as a child – wanting to cuddle up and be warm and safe, but I didn’t want to give up.’

That was just what the crew feared would happen. Alan explains: ‘We knew from our training that once help arrives people can kind of give up. So I jumped in the water to grab David, because I didn’t want him to think: “Well there’s help here”, and let go and give up. He was near unconscious then, he wasn’t speaking to us, so I shouted to Greg who was in the lifeboat to call the ambulance.’

Peter had climbed onto the pontoon. With the help of the man who had first helped David by throwing him the lifering, and Alan supporting from below, they got David out of the water. He started to come round, and the crew got him into the lifeboat to take him straight to the station and wait for the ambulance.

David remembers: ‘I saw the lifeboat arrive out of the corner of my right eye and the next thing I knew a man from the RNLI was just beside me dragging me out. They were just brilliant and kept talking to me and asking me about my grandkids to keep me conscious.’

Alan continues: ‘We pulled the boat into our boathouse, where we stripped him down, got blankets around him, got the oxygen out and kept talking to him until the ambulance arrived.’

David was taken to hospital. Thanks to his triple shot of good luck that day (in being spotted twice and having the lifeboat crew so close at hand), he was treated for nothing more serious than cold and shock. It was still a very unpleasant experience, but he was able to do something very special the very next day. He returned to Conwy lifeboat station on Sunday 1 February to thank the crew in person.

An emotional thank you

Greg says: ‘It’s very rare that we hear anything from the casualty once they’ve left our care on the lifeboat, so it was great to see that not only had he made such a fast recovery, but that he had taken the time to visit the station to thank us.’ David adds: ‘I thought it was only right I went back to the station with a donation on Sunday morning. Apart from a few bruises, I’m alive – and it really does put things into perspective.’

Alan wasn’t at the station that morning, but he saw the family’s gratitude in a more modern way: ‘I operate the Twitter for the station, and his son-in-law had tweeted to our station saying thanks for saving David’s life, so that was quite emotional for me, thinking: “That’s something we’ve done.”’

This rescue features in Saving Lives at Sea, a 12-part BBC series on the RNLI’s lifesaving work. Get more stories from the series here.