A woman was saved from drowning in the River Thames in the early hours of this morning after a London RNLI lifeboat crewman heard a splash through a window.
Duty RNLI Helmsman Craig Burn was sat in the crew room of Tower Lifeboat station, nestled next to Waterloo Bridge, at 2.30am this morning when he heard the noise.
Craig, who was in command of Tower lifeboat last night, said: ‘It was the middle of the night and I was feeling a bit sleepy when I heard the sound of a splash coming through a window, which luckily I had kept open. I took a look and saw a perfect ripple circle on the surface of the river. The wind had dropped on and the water was glassy calm.
‘Through the darkness I could make out something that looked like a black bin sack under one of the arches of Waterloo Bridge but I couldn’t be sure. I thought someone had probably thrown something into the water which happens a lot.’
Craig quickly woke the rest of the charity’s lifeboat crew in the station’s bunk house, two of whom were volunteers carrying out a night shift for the RNLI after spending the day at work. Usually the crew leap into action day or night at the sound of the emergency bell following a request to launch from the Coastguard, but they were up within moments following Craig’s shouts.
Craig continued: ‘We launched the boat and quickly located the black object in the darkness which had drifted upriver near the Savoy Pier on the north bank. The crew got hold of it and immediately saw it was a woman face down. There was an air bubble in her coat which had puffed up making it look like a black bin sack.
‘The crew got her onto the lifeboat. She wasn’t breathing and was unconscious. She was given CPR and within the first 10 compressions she gasped. It was that moment, the knife-edge between life and death.’
The lifeboat swiftly returned to Tower lifeboat station where further medical care was given with London Ambulance Service paramedics before the lady, thought to be in thirties, was taken to hospital breathing and conscious.
Craig said: ‘It was a matter of minutes between hearing the splash and having her back at the lifeboat pier receiving medical care. The water was so calm, it was haunting. If I hadn’t kept the window open, I wouldn’t have heard the splash. I keep thinking what if? It was the strangest job I’ve ever done in my 18 years on the lifeboat. She was a very lucky girl.’
Adam Robson, RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager for London, said: ‘At this stage, we don’t why or how this lady came to be in the river in the early hours of this morning, but we would urge everyone to be careful on or around the water. Just because the Thames runs through the heart of the city, it doesn’t make it any less safe if people aren’t careful. If you see someone in danger, call 999 immediately and ask for the Coastguard who will request a lifeboat to launch.’
London’s Tower lifeboat crew is the busiest in the RNLI, launching to emergencies 465 times in 2015 alone, rescuing 90 people and saving 15 lives. Tower is one of three lifeboat stations along the River Thames in London, along with Chiswick and Teddington. A fourth lifeboat station is located further east along the river at Gravesend in Kent.
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Key facts about the RNLI
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.
The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.
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The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland