Hoylake: I’ve never seen mud like that

What do you think of when you picture the beach? Golden sands? Glistening waves? Chances are, you’re not thinking of a landslide or stacks of thick, cloying mud. But for one family, and Hoylake RNLI, this was their reality …

Hoylake's hovercraft on the sand

Photo: RNLI/David Edwards

Victoria ‘Bunta’ Evans, her husband Andy and their daughter Charlie from Heswall, Wirral, were planning a seaside walk with their Cocker Spaniel at Thurstaton Beach in February. They’d checked the tide times before setting off and brought a mobile phone in case of emergency. But they were unaware that a recent landslide from the surrounding cliffs had made the area extremely hazardous for walkers. 

After a short stroll along the shore, the family turned back, only to realise they were up against an obstacle with the fallen mud. The tide was coming in. ‘My husband went into the water to avoid it, so I followed him,’ Bunta remembers. ‘But then Charlie said: “It looks alright on this bit,” and stepped onto a higher mound. Then she disappeared up to her thighs. 

‘It was like a sink hole had suddenly opened up. It was extraordinary – she couldn’t move at all. I ran to get some driftwood so she could dig herself out, and then I tried to step towards her to help. Next thing I knew, I was suddenly up to my knees, too.’

‘I remember thinking: “I just have to dig myself out – it’ll be OK”’, Charlie recalls. ‘But after half an hour, I wasn’t any better off. That was nerve wracking.’ With the incoming tide, panic was starting to set in. 

‘I had a phone in my pocket, but my hands were so caked in mud, I couldn’t get it,’ Bunta explains. Andy ran to get help on the beach. Soon, Hoylake RNLI were launching their hovercraft Hurley Spirit to the family’s rescue, with the help of the Coastguard and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. 

Hoylake crew arrive on the scene to rescue people stuck in the mud

Photo: Hoylake RNLI

Hoylake crew arriving on the scene

Hoylake RNLI Crew Member Dave Noble was one of the volunteers on scene helping to free Bunta, while two other hovercraft crew members teamed up with the Fire Service to rescue Charlie. ‘The mud there was the most difficult sort of mud to deal with,’ Dave recalls. ‘It was incredibly viscous, cloying and it had lots of rocks in it, making it impossible to move. Throughout my time on the crew, I’ve never dealt with a situation like that.’ 

‘There’s a piece of kit we sometimes use in a mud rescue that looks like a large pole with holes in it,’ Dave explains. ‘Water gets pushed though it quickly to make the mud a softer, soup-like consistency and helps free someone who’s trapped. But it wouldn’t have worked in this scenario, because the mud was too cloying. We had to persevere by digging with our hands. 

‘It took my colleague Colin and me about 10 minutes to free Bunta. She’d twisted her ankle, so we had to be really careful. Matt and Harry from our lifeboat crew, and Emily from the Fire Service (who’s also a lifeboat volunteer), were working to free Charlie who was in deeper and they were digging for over an hour. I’ve never known a mud rescue to take that long before.’ 

Hoylake RNLI and Fire Service, pulling Charlie free

Photo: Hoylake RNLI

Hoylake RNLI and Fire Service, pulling Charlie free

Once Charlie was finally free, the RNLI volunteers used the Coastguard’s sled to transfer her into the hovercraft to join her mum. Then Hurley Spirit flew the family back to shore into the care of an ambulance crew. 

‘There were Coastguards, Fire Service Teams and RNLI crew on scene that day, and all of us were needed,’ Dave stresses. ‘I’m 53 with a long grey beard, but I didn’t even recognise myself in some of the photos because we were covered in mud!’ 

Bunta and Charlie thankfully escaped without any major injuries from the beach. They wanted to give the lifeboat crew a small gesture of thanks for rescuing them. ‘I made a donation to Hoylake RNLI, and Charlie made the volunteers a big batch of brownies,’ Bunta smiles. ‘I wanted them to know how grateful we are. One volunteer even said we helped rescue him from home schooling that day, so he was especially glad he could come and help!’ 

‘This rescue had such a great outcome,’ Dave says, proudly. ‘It’s the greatest thing about being crew – you get to do something to genuinely help people.

Hurley Spirit: the flying lifesaver

Dave Noble three other crew members, covered in mud, stand on the hovercraft Hurley Spirit

Photo: Hoylake RNLI

Dave Noble (third from left) and crew, on the hovercraft Hurley Spirit

‘Why is a hovercraft the best vessel for a mud rescue? Because it can travel on any state of tide, whether it’s extremely low or very high,' explains Crew Member Dave Noble. 'Hovercraft can go out on many types of terrain – whereas a lifeboat needs water to launch. You’re travelling on a bed of air on the hovercraft – nothing is weighing it down, and that makes it perfect for mud flats. When people get cut off by tides or stuck in the mud, our hovercraft is how we can bring them back to safety.’

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