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Tragedy at sea remembered 15 years on as RNLI crews prepare for another Christmas on call

RNLI volunteers across the north west of England will be ready to respond to their pagers at a moment’s notice over Christmas, like any time of the year. However, this December, they are remembering a call out over the festive period, which shook the community.

Fleetwood crew stand next to the memorial

Photo: L-R Daryl Randles

Fleetwood RNLI Coxswain and Mechanic, Ian Ellerby, Sandra Potton, wife of Capt Stephen Potton, Capt David Eccles, Steve Carroll, Gary Randles

On 27 December, 2006, seven people were sadly lost after a helicopter, ferrying rig workers from the gas field in Morecambe Bay crashed into the Irish Sea, nearly 20 miles off the coast at Cleveleys. RNLI volunteers from Fleetwood, Lytham and Barrow were called out to assist with the search.

The RNLI crew at Fleetwood have been reunited with the wife of one of those who sadly died during the incident in reflecting on the tragic loss of life and the commitment of emergency service workers and volunteers at Christmas.

The volunteers at Fleetwood RNLI had enjoyed a quiet Christmas holiday with their families when their pagers broke their peace. The crew launched their Tyne class all- weather lifeboat, William Street and searched the area, along with flank RNLI crews from Barrow and Lytham. Other rescue vessels from the nearby gas field and the RAF search and rescue helicopter joined the search.

Despite the volunteers searching the area, in very challenging conditions, for nearly 22 hours, there were, sadly, to be no survivors. Six bodies were recovered before the search was called off by HM Coastguard.

Sandra Potten, wife of pilot Steve, one of those lost has kept in touch with the RNLI crew at Fleetwood. On Thursday she met up with some of those involved in the search to wish them a safe and peaceful Christmas.

Sandra says:

‘Time may have passed, but I’ll never forget the selflessness and commitment of all the RNLI crews and the other emergency services that day. I’m really touched that 15 years on they still remember me and all those who sadly passed away during this dreadful incident. It’s really humbling to meet up with some of those who helped with the search so many years on and wish them all a peaceful Christmas.

‘It’s amazing to think these people are ready to respond to their pagers at a moment’s notice, at Christmas or any time of the year. We never know when we may need their help, so I really hope people give generously to this year’s Christmas appeal. Sadly, this wasn’t the outcome any of them wanted but as a charity the RNLI really needs continued support to help them go out and save lives at sea.’

Fleetwood RNLI volunteers met with Sandra at a specially built memorial on Fleetwood promenade to pay their respects. Crew member Gary Randles, who was on the call out says:

‘It had been a quiet family Christmas, catching up with friends and neighbours and the last thing we expected was the RNLI pager going off. You know someone is in trouble straight away, so you don’t hesitate for a second and suddenly your Christmas is over. When disaster strikes over the Christmas holiday period, there will always be a constant annual reminder for the families affected by the tragedy and whilst most families celebrate over the festive holiday, others feel the pain and loss of their loved ones, taken suddenly and without warning.

‘It is also quite relevant to me personally, as I now work off-shore and transfer by helicopter regularly. To this day, such was the bond forged by the disaster, some of the families of the deceased from the helicopter are still in contact with the volunteers from Fleetwood RNLI.  This is why we wanted to go to the site and pay our respects as they are in our thoughts constantly.

‘Being on call at Christmas is not really something we think about, it’s just part of the job and being able to help someone is the best gift you can give to someone. Thankfully it’s only down to the generosity of those who support us we can continue doing what we do.’

Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period. But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.

With thousands of volunteers around the UK and Ireland, each RNLI crew member signs up to save every one from drowning – it has been the charity’s mission since 1824.

Matt Crofts, RNLI Lifesaving Manager for Wales and the North West says:

‘With the increase in staycations and more people than ever heading to the coast, it has been an exceptionally busy year for our crews.

‘Even at Christmas, our lifesavers are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water. At this time of year, the weather’s at its worst and lives are on the line.

‘We know that every time our crews go out, they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case. We hope that this year’s Christmas appeal will show people just how tough it can be, but also that with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one.’

To donate to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, visit:

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The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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