Surviving the storms
In this extract from the new book Surviving the Storms, Portrush Crew Member Anthony Chambers talks about a search for two missing boys trapped in a cave
Watch the video below to get a taste of the dramatic rescue stories featured in the book. Then read on for an extract from the book. You can order the book today from the RNLI Shop.
Anthony Chambers, Crew Member Portrush Lifeboat Station
The sound of waves colliding with the rocks echoed around me, rushing into the cave with a roar and then moments later flowing back out again with force. It was easy to move forward a metre, only to be pulled back four when that water whooshed back out of the cave. ‘Those poor lads must be terrified,’ I thought.
For a moment, I waited, holding onto a rock at the entrance of the cave. It was narrower than I’d imagined and it look like it veered off to the left. I focused on the course of the waves. In. Out. In. Out. Soon I knew roughly how long I had between each wave. As the next one came in, I let go of the rock and allowed it to carry me forward a metre or so. Then it started to turn, flowing back out of the cave. So, I grabbed the nearest rock and held on tight.It was taking time. But it was working. After five minutes I was 7 metres into the cave and at the dog-leg to the left. This was going to be a bit more difficult. 'It’s OK, I’m here,’ I shouted.
They probably couldn’t see me, but I wanted them to know someone was coming. With the next wave, I should have them in my sights. SLAP. I felt the cold shingle on the right-hand side of my body and the noise of the impact echoing. I opened my eyes and looked up. I’d been pushed against the far wall of the cave.
Into the caveEyes adjusting to the darkness, I looked around and spotted two frightened faces staring at me from the back of the cave. Both boys were thigh-high in water and I could see they were shivering. They’d been in there for 6 hours already. In that moment, getting them out of there before the tide washed in was our priority, but I was aware they could be suffering from shock and hypothermia too. ‘Right lads, what are your names?’ I asked.
‘Reece,’ said one.
‘Matthew,’ said the other.
‘OK, I’m Anthony. I’m going to help you out of here,’ I said. ‘Which one of you is the youngest?’
Reece pointed to Matthew. I helped him into the lifejacket and fitted his helmet on securely. ‘Now you hang tight onto me, OK?’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Matthew, his voice trembling. I turned to Reece.
‘I won’t be long. I’m only going out there,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. I will come back. I’ll keep shouting too, so you can hear me.’
I didn’t want to leave him, but I had to. I couldn’t get them both out together. I had to get Matthew to the lifeboat. I grabbed hold of his upper body, leant backwards and started kicking. Then he started kicking too, just like I’d hoped it would help to propel us along faster. We moved steadily towards the mouth of the cave. The lifeboat wasn’t quite as close where I’d got in, but it was near enough. As we emerged from the cave, I heard a voice calling. It was Helm Gerard Bradley. ‘I’m going to throw you a line,’ he said.
I turned and indicated I’d heard him with a thumbs up, still holding tightly onto Matthew, who was gripping a tight hold of me back. I watched as Gerard lifted the heaving line and launched it into the air. It landed just a little away from me but I reached out and grabbed it. I clung to the line as Gerard towed us clear of the spray and swell into safer waters. I dragged Matthew to the side of the lifeboat and the crew hauled him aboard. I stayed in the water. ‘I’m going back for your pal,’ I said to him. ‘These guys will look after you now.’
Matthew just nodded as Gerard passed me another lifejacket and helmet. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought. I got back inside the cave.
One down, one to go
‘I’m coming back now Reece. You’ll be able to see me in a minute,’ I shouted, my voice rising over the noise of the water running out of the cave.
I positioned myself so the next waves would carry me towards the far wall of the cave. This time though, when it came, the pull of the water was draining the life out of me. As I tried to swim, my arms felt like lead. Reece was still locked to the same spot, eyes wide and water creeping even higher up from his waist. It had only taken 5 minutes for me to reach him from the cave opening, but it must have felt like a lifetime. This time, I was struggling too. My energy was sapped and I was gasping for breath.
‘You’re going to have to give me 2 minutes,’ I said. ‘But I’m alright. It’s alright.’ At this moment, I vomited with the pure adrenaline and exhaustion.
I needed him to stay calm, but I needed a rest too. If I tried to swim in this state, we could both end in trouble. I focused on the goal. Getting Reece out of the cave. ‘Remember what I told Matthew before?’ I said after a couple of minutes. ‘Kick your legs when we’re in the water?’
He nodded. I steeled myself as I leant backwards and started to move my legs. To my relief, Reece started to kick with ease. We moved closer to the mouth of the cave with every kick, at times having to use our feet to push ourselves away from the walls of the passage out of the cave, as the sea tossed us this way and that. It was tough, but we didn’t have much further to go. I could see the inshore lifeboat and this time it was in close. The swell must have died down a little so Gerard could get right up to the mouth of the cave. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have to catch the line this time. As we kicked our way towards the boat I felt the strength draining out of me. Like sand out of an egg timer, it slipped away. I felt my grip on Reece loosening. ‘I’m going to have to let him go,’ I thought.
The lifeboat was just ahead of us and Reece was secured in his lifejacket. I knew Gerard would get him within moments. The boy would be safe. ‘But I can’t keep on,’ I thought.
Despite the ordeal almost being at an end. The exhaustion was too much. I prepared to let go and let the waves take me. I knew that as soon as I did, I’d be swallowed up and drown. I just didn’t have it in me to fight the waves anymore. But just as I went to release my grip and surrendered myself to the sea, Gerard came up alongside us. ‘They’d got to us,’ I thought.
The crew grabbed Reece and hauled him onboard, then I felt arms around my torso as I was dragged into the boat too.
You can read the rest of Anthony’s adventures and more in Surviving the Storms, now available to buy. Order your copy today.