Redcar RNLI and their search for John Darwin

Lifeboats News Release

Twenty years ago, on 21 March 2002 at 1.19am pagers for the volunteer crew at Redcar RNLI went off.

Inshore lifeboats at sea

RNLI/Dave Cocks

Redcar inshore lifeboats

It was the signal for the start of what turned into a massive search. The task was to look for a man who had left Seaton Carew beach at 8am the previous morning in a canoe.

Redcar RNLI along with lifeboats from Hartlepool, Teesmouth and Staithes were assigned areas to search by the Coastguard and set about their tasks in the dark.

Sea conditions were calm. Both Redcar lifeboats were tasked with searching the area between North Gare and Staithes and 2.5 miles out to sea. The initial search lasted until 2.30pm that day with the lifeboats searching at sea while other members of the volunteer crew carried out an extensive search along the beach between Redcar and South Gare. Nothing was found that could be linked to the missing person.

One week later 29 March 2002 both Redcar Lifeboats were launched. This time it was in response to a report that a damaged kayak had been spotted near to Teesdock. The area was searched but once more nothing was found. The following day Redcar RNLI launched again. A spring tide and low water meant that a more detailed search around the piers and jetties of the river Tees could be carried out. A damaged kayak was recovered from underneath a pier at South Bank and handed over to the Police. The search terminated at 1.30pm that day 30 March 2002.

Mike Picknett who was Senior Helm during the search for John Darwin and is now Lifeboat Operations Manager at Redcar RNLI said: 'This was a very unusual shout for the RNLI. We found no trace of John Darwin and once the search was called off, we assumed that he had drowned. We were astounded when he turned up all those years later. When I look back at what happened I am fascinated by the whole story, but at the time our focus was on finding a missing person. Our primary aim is to save lives at sea and prevent people from drowning. If we are told someone is missing off our coast, we will do all we can to help find them. It’s what we do.’

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