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Ilfracombe RNLI volunteers called away from crew member’s wedding to rescue six

Lifeboats News Release

Ilfracombe RNLI volunteers were called away from a wedding yesterday afternoon (Thursday 28 October) to go to the aid of three adults and three children stranded on a beach.

Volunteer crew members were lined up with oars at the wedding of Ashley Witcombe, a shorecrew volunteer, and his wife Cheryl. The photos had just been taken when the pagers disrupted the occasion.

The D class inshore lifeboat Deborah Brown III was tasked by the Coastguard at around 3.20pm to a group of six people who’d become stranded on small beach near Lee Bay, three miles west of Ilfracombe. The group had been paddleboarding and kayaking when they got stuck in the conditions.

The lifeboat was launched with Leigh Hanks at the helm, and crewmembers Sophie Braund and Kim Jeffs. The volunteers took around seven minutes to arrive on scene.

Conditions were a southerly force 5-6 wind, with a two meter dumping swell, making it impossible for the group to leave the beach.

Leigh manoeuvred the D class and carried out a ‘veering’ technique, where the anchor is deployed and the boat goes astern into the surf, using the anchor to keep the boat stable. Volunteer crew Sophie went ashore to check over the casualties, who were fortunately all uninjured.

When there was a gap in the shore break, Sophie guided three of the casualties through the waves to the D class, and the anchor was recovered as the lifeboat headed out to sea. The casualties were taken to Lee Bay and handed over to the care of the local Coastguard team. The volunteer crew then repeated the same manoeuvre to retrieve the three remaining casualties, and reunite them at Lee Bay.

All casualties were uninjured, if a little cold and wet. The volunteers returned to station at around 4.30pm a little wet from the waves, and the lifeboat was made ready for service. A few hours later the volunteers were back afloat for their weekly training exercise.

Leigh said that conditions had been particularly challenging: ‘Here at Ilfracombe we’re sheltered from the southerly wind but we don’t escape the swell, and that’s what made the conditions difficult yesterday, stranding this group on the beach. They did the right thing by not attempting an escape but waiting for help to arrive.

‘As conditions become more challenging and unpredictable during the autumn months it’s really important for people to be extra cautious if they are thinking about entering the water.

‘We hope the pagers didn’t disrupt Ashley and Cheryl’s special day too much, although I’m sure it’s something they’re both used to. It’s not the first time the pagers have gone off at a crew wedding, and I’m sure it wont be the last!’

To find out more about the RNLI’s safety advice please visit:

Notes to editors

Attached is an image of the crew, (Leigh front left) at Ashley and Cheryl's wedding.

RNLI media contacts

For more information contact Emma Haines, RNLI Regional Media Officer, on 07786 668847 or [email protected] or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Volunteer shorecrew Ashley and his wife Cheryl, with RNLI volunteers (Leigh front left)

Rebecca Payne

Volunteer shorecrew Ashley and his wife Cheryl, with RNLI volunteers (Leigh front left)

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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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