Racing the tide
When a teenage boy suffered a horrific accident, Looe lifeboat crew faced a battle against a quickly rising tide to save him
There are stories behind every rescue. The lifeboat crew members involved, and the family of those who were saved. This article tells the story from Looe lifeboat crew’s perspective. To read what it felt like for the family, click here.
Looe Lifeboat Crew Member Victoria Thomas was at home studying for her master’s when the pager went off. Someone had fallen from a cliff onto rocks just outside of Looe Harbour.
‘Everybody on the crew has their own strengths weaknesses and experiences,’ says Victoria, who aside from her volunteering is a nurse in the Royal Navy. ‘We’re a very strong team at Looe. We all pull together. Depending on what the shouts are, you know who to turn to. Anything trauma-related, everyone does look to me. They all know that it’s one of my strengths.’
The crew launched the D class lifeboat Ollie Naismith and already arrived at the scene, just 8 minutes after their pagers went off. Onboard with Victoria that day were Crew Members Matt Jaycock, Toby Bray and Clive Palfrey.
‘The incident was literally right outside the harbour,’ recalls Clive. ‘Immediately, as we came around the corner, it was apparent what had happened. You could see exactly where they had fallen from.’
The casualty, a young man called Louis Webber, was lying among the rocks, his head supported by the mother of one of his friends. As his friends watched on anxiously, the lifeboat approached.
‘Any incident that we go to, I always imagine the worst-case scenario. Then you can always downscale,’ says Victoria. ‘When you’re attending the scene on a lifeboat, there are lots of external factors to consider. The tide, the weather, people starting to crowd around. All things that could cause another incident.’
Having fallen 8m onto the rocks, Louis had suffered catastrophic injuries. ‘Victoria’s a natural lead when it comes to this,’ says Clive. ‘So when we climbed onto the rocks, I took the casualty’s head to keep it straight while Victoria carried out her checks.’
They were soon joined on the scene by a team from the Coastguard and paramedics. Dale Staff, a crew member and station doctor, also arrived straight from work. While they worked on Louis, another issue quickly became apparent – the incoming tide. ‘It means you have a whole other thing to deal with,’ says Victoria. ‘The casualty will be getting cold a lot quicker in water. And you have to think about moving them in the safest way, so you don’t cause any further harm.’
The decision was made to transfer Louis from beneath the cliffs to another beach across the mouth of the harbour. Working together, the crew, coastguard and paramedics lifted Louis off the rocks. ‘It was a full team effort to get him into the lifeboat,’ says Clive. ‘We put the stretcher across the D class and made our way calm and slow to the beach.’
By the time they crossed over to the other side, the Coastguard rescue helicopter had arrived and landed on the sand. The lifeboat crew handed over Louis to the care of the paramedics.
‘Without the lifeboat team that day, it would have been a different scenario,’ says Clive. ‘To move Louis safely from where he fell would have been a complete nightmare by land. By the time we left the rocks, anyone not wearing a dry suit was soaking wet.’
‘During the shout, for the patient and their family, it must seem like a million years. But for the crew, the time just flies and you don’t realise how quickly things are happening,’ says Victoria. ‘Until Covid hit, we were training all the time. Every week. Practising the drills and skills, which pay dividends when you’re on a shout. The training just kicks in.’
Now you’ve read the lifeboat crew’s perspective, read what it was like for Louis’s family. This rescue wouldn't be possible without your support. Your kindness powers every one of our rescues. Thank you for being a lifesaver.