A jump too far: Lyme Regis rescue
With arms outstretched, Lyme Regis lifeboat crew prepare to grab hold of two teenage boys struggling in the water. Will they reach them before they go under?
It’s a balmy summer’s evening in late June. Just a few hours earlier, 14-year-old Archie Woollacott had been cooling off in the water with friends after their school sports day. They were jumping off Axmouth Harbour wall into the river at Seaton. But with the tide on its way out, Archie got caught in the strong current and couldn’t get back to the wall.
‘The boys were trying to get to me but couldn’t,’ recalls Archie. ‘They formed a human chain and I tried to swim harder to reach them but one of them nearly got dragged out too.’
Realising his friend was being swept further out towards the sea, 14-year-old Bo Bobev decided to jump in to help, only to get caught in the current himself. He managed to reach Archie who by this time was tiring. Bo gave Archie the encouragement he needed to keep his head above water. But with both boys now at the mercy of the sea and its cold temperatures. They needed help – and they needed it fast.
When their pagers went off, Senior Helm Tim Edwards was about to tuck into a pizza. Nikky Williams was looking forward to fish and chips on the seafront, Murray Saunders was about to fire up the barbecue and Andy Butterfield had just had a meal out with his wife. The crew abandoned their plans for the evening, raced to the station and launched the Lyme Regis lifeboat.
‘Persons in the water is as bad as it gets,’ says Tim. ‘We need to get there as quick as we can. You always react differently when children are involved. I guess they’re more vulnerable and still have so much to do in life.’
With the expert guidance from the Beer Coastguard Rescue Team, it took Lyme Regis lifeboat crew just 10 minutes to arrive on scene and spot the two boys in the water. By this time, the boys had been there for at least 30 minutes.
‘Gotcha!’ said Andy as Helm Murray carefully manoeuvred the lifeboat alongside the two boys. The two boys grabbed hold of the hands reaching out towards them.
‘I’ll always remember Archie grabbing my hand,’ says Tim. ‘I think that’s when he realised he was safe. Both boys were very pleased to see us, but Archie was too tired to show it.’
‘I was so relieved to see the lifeboat,’ confirms Archie. ‘I had cramp and felt light-headed. I just wanted to get into the boat.’
As Andy, Nikky and Murray pulled Bo aboard the lifeboat, Tim reassured Archie that everything was going to be OK. ‘Archie, I’m Tim. We’ll get you in next. I’ll bring you back, alright. We’ll look after you.’
Once both boys were aboard the lifeboat, the crew wrapped them in thermal blankets to warm them up. Both were suffering from the effects of cold water, but it was clear that Archie’s condition was worse than Bo. He was very quiet and lethargic. Not knowing how much water they’d inhaled, there were concerns of secondary drowning too. With sea conditions getting rougher, they agreed to get the boys back to shore via the Coastguard rescue helicopter.
‘I felt completely exhausted and just wanted to sleep and get warm,’ says Archie. ‘The lifeboat crew kept talking to us and kept me awake.’
‘You did the right thing – you stayed together. That’s the most important thing,’ Murray told the boys. ‘If you’d separated, we would’ve had to have found two separate people. So, you did the right thing. You did nothing wrong.’
‘The helicopter transfer wasn’t easy,’ explains Tim. ‘We were heading into a 1–1.5m sea with two casualties and the winchman on the boat. It was difficult to keep up with the helicopter while trying to keep everyone safe. Murray did really well at the helm.’
‘When I was winched up into the rescue helicopter, it was cold from the wind and spray,’ recalls Archie. ‘I was too exhausted to enjoy or think about it.’
Once back on dry land, Archie and Bo were taken into the care of the awaiting paramedics. Archie’s mum Emily made her way through the anxious crowd that had gathered. She’d been alerted to the situation by another parent. Knowing Archie was in one of the ambulances, she froze, fearing the worst. When she plucked up the courage to go in, her relief was overwhelming.
‘She called me an idiot,’ says Archie. ‘Then gave me the biggest hug!’
‘We are so grateful’
Emily Legg, Archie's mum, says: ‘There aren’t words to encapsulate the huge hole our family would’ve had if the lifeboat crew hadn’t managed to reach Archie. I realise how hugely lucky we were and how much different it could've been without he RNLI, the Coastguard and the person who had presence of mind to call 999. We are so grateful to the lifeboat crew and of course to Bo who will be on our Christmas list forever.’
‘Bo deserves credit. He’s a brave lad,' says Tim Edwards, Senior Helm at Lyme Regis. 'But we would always recommend calling 999 and asking for the coastguard rather than attempting to rescue someone yourself. Archie said a big thank you to our station later. He gave us £700, which he’d fundraised from a cake sale, a nonschool uniform day and shaving his head! Thanks Archie. Without supporters’ hard work and generosity, we wouldn’t have the resources we do to save lives.’
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