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RNLI rescuers needed everything but their boats to reach patients stuck in snow

Lifeboats News Release

A mother to be who was 38 weeks pregnant and a man needing to undergo kidney dialysis treatment are among those rescued from remote snow-bound communities by the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team based at St Asaph in North Wales over the past couple of days.

The RNLI’s Flood Rescue Teams are made up of specially trained volunteers ready to respond when flooding occurs, but with the recent severe weather many of the teams have been using their search and rescue skills to help those trapped by snow.

Yesterday (Friday 2 March) volunteers from the North Wales team undertook a six hour journey in treacherous conditions to reach an expectant mother in a hilltop cottage in Pentrefoelas, near Betws-y-Coed, so that she could be nearer a hospital if she went into labour.

‘It’s hard enough getting up there in the summer,’ said RNLI volunteer Greg Donald, who drove one of the charity’s Land Rovers through challenging conditions and blocked roads to reach her remote home. Volunteer Darrell Graham followed up in a support vehicle.

‘The road was impassable due to the weather conditions and all access was blocked with three to fifteen foot snow-drifts,' Greg described, explaining that at one point he was forced to leave the road and drive his 4x4 across fields to get to the cottage. Eventually he had to abandon the vehicle and make the last part of the journey on foot.

‘My concern was if she did run into difficulty there could have been problems getting her out of there to hospital,’ said Greg. ‘She was two weeks from her due date, but I’m a dad and I know two weeks is nothing, it could happen any minute.’

The mother-to-be decided to pack her bags and head back in the Land Rover, which Greg eventually managed to drive to her door. Before leaving, Greg also checked on the occupants of several other remote houses to see if anyone else was in urgent need of assistance.

Once back at base in St Asaph, the woman was picked up by a relative who lived in Rhyl, far nearer the hospital, to await the baby’s arrival.

On the same day, another rescue mission, led by volunteers Guy Williams and Leighton Jones, set off for the village of Dawn, near Betws-yn-Rhos in North Wales to reach a man who needed to get to hospital for kidney dialysis treatment.

‘It’s a little cottage in the middle of nowhere surrounded on three sides by mountains,’ said Guy. ‘The man normally has a volunteer from the Red Cross, but she uses her own car and had rang to say she couldn’t get out of her drive. The ambulance did try to get there, but it couldn’t get there either. I think we were the last resort apart from the helicopter.’

Using an RNLI 4x4, the volunteers were able to get the man to Glan Clwyd Hospital where his treatment could begin.

Over recent days the team at St Asaph have also helped transport nurses, doctors and other hospital staff from their homes to Glan Clwyd Hospital, due to heavy snow in the area creating treacherous driving conditions on smaller roads.

Most of the members of the RNLI Flood Rescue Team come from neighbouring lifeboat stations, including Rhyl, Conwy, Beaumaris, Aberystwyth, Abersoch and Criccieth and also volunteer their time to assist in flood conditions.

Volunteer Callum Robinson said although the crews were trained to deal with floods, their skills in map-reading, communications and rescue meant they were ideally suited to help out in severe weather situations. ‘As one of my colleagues said to me, it is water out there - just that it’s frozen!’

‘For us this has been a real community support mission,’ he explained. ‘It really is a multi-agency approach, we’ve been supporting organisations such as the NHS. It means we can take on some of the jobs that mountain rescue and the Red Cross would do and that allows them to be able to take on the more challenging rescues. We are not mountain rescue, far from it, but it frees them up to do their specialist work.’

Around fourteen RNLI volunteers have been taking part in the operation in North Wales and additional volunteers have also been providing a similar role in South Wales. ‘We were meant to be having a training exercise this weekend, so we changed it into a real rescue mission!’ added Callum.

ENDS

RNLI Media contacts

▪ Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer (South East), 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 paul_dunt@rnli.org.uk


▪ For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789



RNLI volunteer Darrell Graham who took part in an six hour mission to rescue a pregnant woman

RNLI

RNLI volunteer Darrell Graham who took part in an six hour mission to rescue a pregnant woman
RNLI volunteer Dougie Lonsdale showing the size of snow drifts the RNLI had to tackle

RNLI

RNLI volunteer Dougie Lonsdale showing the size of snow drifts the RNLI had to tackle
The rescue operation was multi-agency. RNLI volunteers pictured with the British Red Cross

RNLI

The rescue operation was multi-agency. RNLI volunteers pictured with the British Red Cross
Many of the roads were virtually impassable with drifts up to 15ft high

RNLI

Many of the roads were virtually impassable with drifts up to 15ft high
The RNLI team worked day and night to rescue people trapped by snow

RNLI

The RNLI team worked day and night to rescue people trapped by snow
Conditions on the roads were treacherous

RNLI

Conditions on the roads were treacherous

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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