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Cornwall rock fall

Heading for the beach, Liz Clark was expecting sun, sand and family fun – not a helicopter ride to hospital. Read about the rescue.

Cornwall rock fall

Heading for the beach, Liz Clark was expecting sun, sand and family fun – not a helicopter ride to hospital. Read about the rescue.

Tuesday 20 June 2017. A warm, sunny day, with clear skies.

Liz Clark was on holiday, ready for a day at the beach with her husband, Martin, and children. They’d chosen a small sandy cove known as Cellars Bay, close to where they were staying in north Cornwall. A rock fall was the last thing on their minds.

At neighbouring Harlyn Bay, RNLI lifeguards were preparing for a busy day when a man approached, asking for help.

‘We were going through our usual morning routine when we were alerted to a woman injured in a rock fall,’ recalls Lifeguard Supervisor Leon Bennett, on duty that day with Ben Hardie and Dan Wickins.

Part of the cliff face had collapsed onto the beach below and Liz was trapped underneath the fallen rocks. Cellars Bay is not a lifeguarded beach, but Liz’s family immediately raised the alert.

Liz had suffered multiple injuries. Lifeguard Dan Wickins says: ‘When we reached Liz we tasked others at the scene to watch the cliff face for signs of further movement. It was important to make Liz as comfortable as possible and reassure her and her family. We gave her oxygen and tended her wounds while waiting for the paramedics.’

Cornwall Air Ambulance medics, the Fire Service, Padstow Coastguard Team and Devon and Cornwall Police soon arrived, with the specialist skills to free Liz from the rock fall and stabilise her to be airlifted to hospital.

Lifeguard Ben says: ‘We manually lifted the rocks from Liz, with some having to be lifted by two people. We helped carry Liz on a spinal board and I kept her head stable, wading through water to get to neighbouring Boat Bay, where the air ambulance had landed.’ Our lifeguards also helped keep onlookers at bay.

Liz’s daughter, Vicky Davey, says: ‘Seeing multiple services working together to deliver a fast and safe rescue was astonishing. The professionalism and care delivered on the day definitely helped us move forward from such a traumatic event. To say we are lucky is an understatement.’

Liz spent the next 5 weeks in hospital and had to undergo a pelvic reconstruction.

‘My mother’s recovery has continued to amaze us, and the ongoing support and good wishes from the lifeguards and emergency services have been a big part of that,’ says Vicky. ‘After sustaining multiple injuries, the past 5 months haven’t been the easiest. However, with positivity and determination Mum has learned to walk again and is no longer under any medical supervision.’

Liz’s experience that day hasn’t put her off Cornwall, or going to the beach. After 5 months, she and Martin returned to say thanks to the lifeguards and coastguards who helped her. They are planning a similar trip to visit the team at Cornwall Air Ambulance.

Vicky says: ‘As a family we want to thank the RNLI for their contribution to my mother’s rescue. We will be forever grateful for the lifeguards who were involved that summer’s morning and it reminds us that, even if you are very familiar with your surroundings, it is important to stay alert to the dangers that exist across our beaches.’

‘It’s great to see Liz back on her feet’

Leon Bennett, Lifeguard Supervisor, says: ‘Unfortunately rock falls can happen at any time. Liz was lucky the outcome wasn’t worse given the extent of the fall.

‘RNLI lifeguards were just part of the team of people who responded quickly and professionally on the day to ensure that Liz got the care and treatment she needed before being airlifted to hospital.

‘It was great to see Liz back on her feet and we appreciate her and Martin coming back to see us. We wish her well with the rest of her recovery.’

Know what to do

Cliff falls can happen without warning and are a risk to people on top of the cliffs or exploring the beach below. Rock falls happen more often than you may think. They are a natural part of coastal erosion, and don’t just happen in bad weather. The RNLI’s advice: Stay well away from cliff edges and bases.

Get more coastal safety tips