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Man’s life saved in dramatic rescue by Tower RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

A man in imminent danger of drowning was plucked from the River Thames by the Tower lifeboat crew seconds after going below the surface of the water.


The lifeboat was requested to launch at 5.57am yesterday morning after reports of screaming were heard from the river near Woolwich Pier. The lifeboat was on the water within seconds and made its way to the incident at speed.

Once on scene, it became apparent that the lifeboat would be unable to reach the casualty due to his location underneath a jetty, so the decision was made to prepare a crew member to enter the water.

Attempts to deploy a floatation aid and throwline were unsuccessful and, with the casualty unable to keep himself afloat with the strong current dragging him under the surface of the water, every second counted.

The man’s life was in grave danger, so a dynamic risk assessment was made, and a crew member committed to the water without a helmet. The immediate risk to life, the swell, structural surroundings and how long the casualty had been in the water meant the crew member had no other choice if he was to rescue the man.

The crew member entered the water and started to swim to where the casualty was seen to go under the surface. A throw line was also deployed by a crew member on board the lifeboat, landing at this location. The crew member in the water felt the man’s head under the water and tried to pull him up. The man rose to the surface gasping for breath; the crew member immediately took hold of the man to maintain his airway and started to swim them both back to the lifeboat.

Tower Lifeboat Helm, Steve Doherty, said:

‘We wouldn’t normally enter the water without a helmet, but given the threat to life, the ten seconds it would have taken to put on the equipment could have proved fatal for the casualty.

‘Without the actions of the lifeboat crew, the man would not have been rescued and would have drowned. There is no doubt this is a life saved – if we had been a minute later, the man would not have survived.’

An assessment of the casualty was carried out; he was breathing but showing signs of reduced consciousness. He was wrapped in blankets and transferred to Barrier Gardens Pier where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service.

*Life saved is a specific RNLI term which is decided after careful analysis of a range of criteria. A rescue is categorised as a life saved where, if it weren’t for the intervention of the RNLI, a person would most likely have died.


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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, Carrybridge 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