Night time search in strong winds by RNLI volunteers after liferaft sighting
Full scale search of the Irish Sea over 20 miles off the Fylde Coast.
The Coastguard CGOC (Coastguard Operations Centre, Holyhead) received a report from the ferry Stena Embla of a ship’s liferaft in the sea some twenty one miles west from the Fylde Coast. The near gale force wind and the large size of the ferry prevented any further investigation so the Coastguard immediately requested the Lytham St Annes Lifeboat launch at 5:02pm while the ferry continued on her regular run to Birkenhead. The Coastguard issued a Mayday call warning all vessels in the area to keep a look out for the raft.
Lytham St Annes's all-weather lifeboat Barbara Anne launched at 5:24pm with the volunteer rrew under the command of Coxswain / Mechanic Andrew McHaffie and headed out to the reported position. The weather conditions on scene were atrocious with south east winds gusting at times to gale force 8 and a sea swell over three metres (10 feet) high. The driving rain and hail combined with spray whipped up by the high wind made visibility very poor as the lifeboat started to search for the reported liferaft.
With no sighting of the liferaft, the Barbara Anne, now joined in the search by the Coastguard helicopter Rescue 936 from Caernarfon and the gas rig support vessel VOS Endurance, began a parallel pattern search of the area up to 25 miles out from the coast in the estimated direction that the life-raft would have drifted. With no sign still of the liferaft, a second of the charity’s lifeboats, the Kenneth James Pierpoint launched from Fleetwood RNLI at 8pm to join in and when eventually the Coastguard helicopter had to return to base for fuel, a Coastguard fixed wing aircraft Rescue 21 was deployed to assist.
Despite a thorough search of the area carried out in very difficult conditions and extremely poor visibility, nothing was found and the search was scaled down in stages, the Lytham lifeboat being stood down to return to her station at 11:20pm. The search was terminated when the Fleetwood RNLI lifeboat was stood down at 1am (20th) before arriving home for 3:30am.
Meanwhile the Barbara Anne was beached near the Thursby Home on North Beach at 1:30am (20th) to be recovered and returned to her boathouse. It was still not time for the Volunteer Crew to get to their beds as washing off and refuelling the lifeboat and SLRS launching rig, and checking over all equipment then followed before they and the Shore Crew could return to their homes shortly after 3.15am (20th) after a service lasting 10 hours.
Coxswain Andrew McHaffie later said: 'Unfortunately we had no sightings of the object, originally reported as a liferaft, in the atrocious conditions'.
He went on to thank the other searchers for their assistance and the Lytham St Annes Shore Crew who had turned out in the early hours to recover the lifeboat and make sure she was refuelled and ready for the next service.
The RNLI charity’s two lifeboats, assisted by the other searchers, had covered the entire area in their long search.
Key facts about the RNLI
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 over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, 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.