‘It was horrible – but we saw the best of humanity'
Our near 200-year history is rich with stories of volunteer crews and lifeguards who carry out enormous feats of bravery to save a life in danger. It also takes courage to share stories of what it’s like to need rescuing. Hear from two coastal walkers, who generously tell us theirs.
‘We passed a lorry that was on fire just as we were taking the exit on the M5,’ remembers Beverley Day. ‘We thought to ourselves: “Woah, we’ve just missed that!” Little did we know that, 20 minutes later, we’d be having our own trauma.’
Having had a busy year renovating their house in London, Beverley and her husband Graham were looking forward to a break in Clevedon, Somerset, with their 15-year-old dog Meg. After driving for 2 hours, the family reached their Airbnb holiday home and decided to take Meg for a walk before settling in.
‘There was a coastal path within easy reach of the house,’ Graham explains. ‘Meg’s old and we didn’t think she would run off, so after a while we let her off the lead. Suddenly, she bolted towards the sea, not realising we were on a cliff, and went over the edge. We heard her fall and then her crying from down below.’
‘Your instinct is just to rescue a member of your family,’ Beverley adds. ‘She’s been part of our family for 15½ years.’
‘I looked down the cliff, holding onto a rock,’ Graham says. ‘All of a sudden, it broke off in my hand. I fell, landing on my ribs onto solid rock. I couldn’t breathe.’
I looked down the cliff, holding onto a rock. All of a sudden, it broke off in my hand. I called up to Beverley to get help, but I couldn’t shout loudly because my chest hurt so much.
‘Meg came up to me and realised I was hurt. I called up to Beverley to get help, but I couldn’t shout loudly because my chest hurt so much,’ says Graham. ‘I knew from watching things like Saving Lives at Sea that I shouldn’t move in case I had broken something, so I just laid still.’
‘I dialled 999,’ Beverley continues. ‘I managed to hear the responder ask: “Where are you?” but the signal on the coastal path was quite poor and I only knew the name of the Airbnb.
‘We’d met the property owner and her brother-in-law outside before we went for the walk, and I’d also seen a builder working on the house. There were several people there who could potentially help, so I ran straight back.
‘The builder, Matt, knows the coast very well so he followed me back to the path and lowered himself down to Graham in a very safe way – he brought Graham some blankets and a coat to keep him warm and called 999. Matt had better signal there, and he managed to give them an exact description of where we were.’
‘Matt was talking to me to try and keep me awake,’ Graham remembers. ‘Then the RNLI lifeboat came along, and two volunteers jumped into the water to reach us. One of the lifeboat crew members took her helmet off and placed it under my arm to hold me up so I didn’t crush my ribs.’
Two volunteers jumped into the water to reach us. One of the crew members placed her helmet under my arm to hold me up so I didn’t crush my ribs
As the Portishead RNLI volunteers began to assess Graham, two ambulance crews and the Coastguard helicopter arrived to rescue him – and Meg – from the cliffs.
‘The only way to get Graham off the cliff was by helicopter,’ Beverley explains. ‘But the team had come from Wales and the helicopter didn’t have enough fuel. They had to leave to get more fuel and, even though they were quick, every second just felt like an hour.’
‘When it was time to winch me up, the gust from the helicopter blades made us swing out quite considerably,’ Graham continues. ‘It was so strong that the winchman Clive lost the head camera attached to his helmet. But I felt safe because everyone from all the teams worked so well together – they came together as one team, even though they were from separate services.’
‘Even the ambulance team who were up on the coast path with me,’ Beverley adds. ‘Graham needed rescuing, but so did Meg. And they pulled her up using ropes and a special dog rescue bag. Then, when Graham was safely in the helicopter, the police offered to take me to the hospital because I didn’t know where it was.'
‘It was a really horrible experience, but we saw the best of humanity – especially in local people like Matt who ended up forming part of the rescue team too.
‘We often don’t realise people like the RNLI volunteers exist until we need them. It was one of the crew member’s birthdays, but the kind of emotional intelligence and moral strength she had … that was a gift she gave to Graham.’
It was one of the crew member’s birthdays, but that kind of emotional intelligence and moral strength she had … that was a gift she gave to Graham
After being flown to hospital, Graham spent 4 days in intensive care. He suffered multiple fractures on eight ribs – and, though he’s still recovering, he and his family are safe and well today.
‘It’s very important for me to say that without the RNLI, I probably wouldn’t be here,’ Graham stresses. ‘But I am here, and it’s thanks to them.’
You can help keep every member of your family safe – including dogs – when walking near the water. Always keep your four-legged friends on the lead and, if they get into trouble, don’t attempt to rescue them yourself. Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.Get more coastal walking safety tips