What an Easter! – Appledore RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

Appledore RNLI was involved in two major potentially lifesaving shouts for over Easter.

RNLI/Appledore RNLI crew member Alex Hall

Easter Friday launch turned into complex rescue. Appledore RNLI
Just after midnight on Easter Friday 15 April the coastguard notified Appledore RNLI about a 32ft yacht in difficulty eight miles west of Hartland, with one person on board, but no VHF radio or GPS so no exact location was available. The casualty had phoned 999 for help having had a suspected seizure. No further communication between the coastguard and casualty was possible. The all-weather lifeboat was launched and as it made its way around Hartland a faint RADAR reading was picked up about two miles North West of Hartland Point. The lifeboat went to investigate and found it was the reported casualty vessel drifting on the tide with only an anchor light on. No sails were up and no engine was running.

Two crew members were put on board where they found the casualty in a very poorly condition in the cockpit. The two first aiders put on board requested a helicopter to airlift the casualty to hospital. Manoeuvring the casualty onto the Lifeboat in the middle of Harland Race was deemed dangerous so the yacht was put on tow to start bringing the casualty, with first aid help, back to Appledore whilst waiting for the coastguard helicopter that arrived 40 minutes later.

As the helicopter and lifeboat were deciding the best method of winching the casually, the lifeboat crew on board the yacht suddenly saw flames and smoke coming from the engine compartment and immediately warned of fire on board. The helicopter quickly moved away to prevent further downdraft from its blades fanning the fire, and the lifeboat dropped the tow enabling them to turn round and pick up the crew and casualty as quickly as possible from the front of the yacht. During this maneuverer the lifeboat encountered mechanical problems causing limited steerage, however managed to extract the crew and casualty very quickly aboard.

The paramedic was winched down to the lifeboat just as the casually experienced another seizure, then unconsciousness. The casualty was very quickly airlifted, but on arrival at North Devon District Hospital the fog was found to be too thick to land and changed route to Cornwall.

Once it was established that the yacht fire had become extinguished, a tow was re-established and the lifeboat and yacht slowly got back to Appledore at around 7.00 am.

At 8.20 Easter Sunday morning, 17 April, the crew were paged again, this time for the inshore lifeboat. Three adults and two children were on board a small rib launched from Churchfields slip in Appledore. They broke down off Crowe Point, apparently they had either run out of fuel or it was contaminated. With no radio they phoned for help to the Coastguard providing their ‘what3words’ location (see below). With an Easterly wind and an ebbing tide, the rib was rapidly washed out towards the river mouth and despite it taking only five minutes from the lifeboat leaving the boat house, to arriving on scene, the rib was already out of control over South Gut in four to six feet breaking waves. The lifeboat had one chance to pick them up before they capsized, a ‘Snatch and Grab’ scenario.

The tow rope was ready, the lifeboat got in position, took a gap in the surf, the crew threw the tow and dragged them out.

To quote the Helm Simon McCarthy: ‘With three trainee helms as crew, a good brief and all the intensive training that each had undertaken over the last few months, this rescue was as slick and quick as you can get it. Within 30-60 seconds the rib would have been turned over by the surf and the outcome could have been very nasty’.

This was potentially five lives saved.

Appledore RNLI reminds people that with boats being used, often for the first time in the season, please check your fuel. Petrol can deteriorate over the winter causing non-starting or breakdowns. If you breakdown, please throw an anchor out immediately. Always have a means of calling for help and identifying your position. Lifejackets are useless unless worn properly and they must be serviced regularly. Check the tides, swell and weather.

‘what3words’ is a free phone app which is an easy way to identify precise locations on land or sea and can be used by the emergency services to find a casualty. Every 3m square has been given a unique combination of three words: a what3words address. It is a ‘proprietary geocode system designed to identify any location with a resolution of about 3 metres (9.8 ft.). It is owned by What3words Limited, based in London, England. The system encodes geographic coordinates into three permanently fixed dictionary words.’

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 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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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.