A parent's worst nightmare
After their son, Louis, was involved in a horrific accident, Mark and Emma Webber could only watch as the lifeboat crew worked to save him.
There are stories behind every rescue: from the lifeboat crew involved, and the family of those who were saved. This article tells the story from the family’s perspective. You can read about the rescue from a crew member’s point of view in this article.
It’s the call every parent fears the most. There’s been an accident involving your child. Mark and Emma Webber were at home watching TV when a family friend called them urgently. ‘Emma, it’s Amy. I’ve got Louis in my arms. You need to get here quick.’
Their son Louis had been out with friends around Looe, including Amy’s son Finn. They were on the cliffs next to the harbour when the ground gave way beneath Louis’s feet, sending him falling onto the rocks below. ‘I couldn’t speak,’ says Emma. ‘I knew just from the tone in her voice that something was terribly wrong. Mark was saying to me: “What’s going on?”, and I was just literally shouting at him: “We need to go, we need to go!”
They raced to the scene. ‘We were about five minutes away from where it happened,’ says Emma. ‘When we got there, there was every rescue service you could think of. Blue lights flashing everywhere. There was even a helicopter in the sky, and this was not long after it happened.’
‘I scrambled down the rocks to him,’ says Mark. ‘My initial thoughts when I first saw him was: “Oh my god, my son is dead.” I can honestly say I now know what the word “terrified” means.’
I can honestly say I now know what the word “terrified” means
‘I remember seeing the lifeboat crew all around him,’ says Emma. ‘It’s the worst ever feeling to experience as a parent. Nobody would say he was going to be OK because, from their experience, they knew this was serious. We didn’t know if he was going to live or die.’
Racing against the tide
Powerless, Mark and Emma could only watch as the lifeboat crew and paramedics worked to save Louis. The lifeboat station is a big part of the community, so there were a few familiar faces on the crew that day.
‘I don’t think they knew that it was Louis to begin with,’ says Emma. ‘Toby, who’s the helm, his nephew Jack is friends with Louis. They’ve been in the same class for years and, when they went to prom last year, Toby was driving one of the cars. So, he knows Louis, he knows us, he knows who we are.’
Also among the crew was Dale Staff. As well as a volunteer on the lifeboat, Dale is the local GP and used to live next door to the Webber family. He had come straight to the scene from work and was still in his doctor’s scrubs. He was working with the crew to save Louis’s life when Mark and Emma arrived.
‘Louis was obviously in a lot of pain,’ says Mark. ‘I said to them: “Can’t you give him some sort of painkiller, or morphine, anything?” and they turned around to me and just said their main priority was to get him out of the water. The sea was coming in very quickly because of the spring tide and he was going to be freezing cold. Louis must have heard this, as he came round and started to panic.’
With the tide coming in fast, they needed to get Louis off the rocks. They decided their best course of action was to transport him across the harbour to a nearby beach, where the coastguard helicopter would be able to land and take Louis to hospital. Working together, the lifeboat crew and paramedics lifted Louis off the rocks and onto the lifeboat.
‘Mark and I couldn’t go in the lifeboat. So we climbed back up the rocks to the car and drove round to the other beach,’ says Emma.
By the time they arrived, Louis was off the lifeboat and on the beach, being treated by the doctors from the helicopter. ‘I always said, if something happens to one of my kids, you’re going to have to put me out, I won’t be able to cope,’ says Emma. ‘But, in actual fact, something very different happened. You listen to everything. It’s like you’ve turned the volume up on every single person so you can hear every single thing that everybody is saying. You don’t want to miss one split second of somebody saying something like: “He’s going to live,” or “he’s going to be OK.”’
My heart has never beaten alone without Louis
Lucky to be alive
Having done all that they could to help Louis, the lifeboat volunteers handed him over to the care of the coastguard helicopter crew. While they prepared to take off, Emma raced home to get a change of dry clothes for them both. ‘Mark waited until the helicopter left, and when it went up, he broke down in tears, and that’s when the community came around him,’ says Emma. ‘There was an elderly lady who offered him a cup of tea. He just kept saying: “That’s my son, that’s my son.” It was just horrific.’
Back at the family home, Louis’s twin sister, Jasmine, could do nothing but sit and wait for news to come. The only news she could get on her brother was from social media. ‘After the accident, Jasmine told me, “My heart has never beaten alone without Louis,”’ says Emma.
Further away in Plymouth, Louis’s older sister, Kianna, was on the phone to her parents when the helicopter carrying Louis flew over her house. She looked up and knew her brother was fighting for her life.
A family friend drove them to the hospital, where the severity of Louis’s injuries became clearer. Fractured skull, broken vertebrae and ribs, shattered kneecaps, bleeding on the brain. ‘The whole left side of his body had been smashed to pieces,’ says Mark.
‘The consultant said he’d never seen that neck injury on someone who’s alive and walking,’ says Emma.
The work carried out that day by the lifeboat crew and paramedics meant Louis is on the road to a miraculous recovery.
‘When you look at all the broken bones and the severity of what had happened, I have to put it back to the care he got on the rocks,’ says Emma. ‘If they had done something that was wrong, they could have killed or paralysed him. This is why we’re so passionate about the lifeboat crew. They got out to him first. They were the difference between life and death.’
‘They are volunteers,’ says Mark. ‘They don’t have to do this. We’ll be forever indebted to the RNLI.’
Now you’ve read what it was like for Louis’s family, read the lifeboat crew’s perspective. Your support means we get to tell more stories with a happy ending. Thank you for ensuring we can save lives at sea, and keep families like Louis’s together.