On Saturday 6 August at 5.02 pm, Campbeltown RNLI volunteers were paged for the second time in less than 12 hours to assist two children who were in difficulty at Westport Beach.
The volunteer crew on the Severn class lifeboat, Ernest and Mary Shaw, left Campbeltown, for Westport beach, around 30 nautical miles. With the D-class boat launching from Machrihnanish beach, where they received the news from HM Coastguard Campbeltown Rescue Team, that the children were now safely onshore, however there was now reports of a missing male at sea.
Duncan Gordon MacDonald, known to his family and friends as Gordon, had been spending his Saturday with family in Campbeltown. He arrived from Cumbernauld to attend the Kintyre Agricultural Show on Friday, followed by a trip to Westport Beach the next day.
As the sun was shining, Gordon was paddling with his nephew, David, along with his nephew’s daughter, Erin. Paddling just above the knee and jumping the small waves with David and Erin, Gordon experienced what was described as a ‘freak wave’ that brought all three people off their feet.
David managed to scramble his way up the beach to safety, but Gordon was caught in difficulty after throwing Erin over the waves to the safety of her father. The waves continued to batter against Gordon making it more difficult for him to make his way to safety and resulted in him becoming unconscious in the water.
Campbeltown Coastguard had a visual on Gordon and were able to pass this information to the crew of the D-class lifeboat as they began to make their approach.
The crew of the D-class were looking closely for a person in the water but only had an estimated position.
Inshore lifeboat helm, Gregor Menzies, navigated the boat to the last known casualty position. As the boat went over a large wave, William Livingstone was able to point out Gordon.
All three crew members worked together to get Gordon on board the lifeboat, and one crew member started chest compressions immediately.
When the D-class lifeboat arrived on shore, assistance was given by the crew of Campbeltown Coastguard to safely transfer Gordon from the lifeboat to the beach as the crew continued to provide medical support.
Local paramedics from the Scottish Ambulance Service were able to step in and relieve the volunteer crew members, as well as Police Scotland officers who helped to clear the area. Campbeltown Coastguard Rescue Team also set up a landing site for the helicopter.
The RNLI volunteers on board the Severn class lifeboat were returned to the lifeboat station after standing-by, and waiting to assist, if required.
Gordon was transferred to Glasgow where he would receive specialist care after his traumatic experience. After a successful resuscitation, Gordon was put into an induced coma, and then onto a ventilator. This was to give his body the time to rest and recover, as well as allow the medical professionals to give him the medication he needed.
After a positive night in the intensive care unit (ICU), Gordon was then put onto reduced sedation as the hospital staff removed the ventilator tube and replaced with a free-flowing oxygen mask.
He was then placed into the major trauma ward on Wednesday 10 August. David MacDonald, Gordon’s son, spoke of his visit to the hospital to see his father the day after the incident:
“I was standing talking to the nurse and I looked over at him and he just opened his eyes and looked at me.
“I nearly fell over. I was speaking to him and asking him how he was, and he stuck his thumbs up."
David described the feeling of seeing his Dad open his eyes on Sunday morning as “a tonne of weight that had been lifted off my chest.” He went on to say, 'I’ve never felt so much relief in my life as I did on Sunday morning, my Dad’s here!'
A consequence of successful resuscitation includes damage to the sternum making it painful for the casualty. Gordon was also found to have an infection in his lungs which made breathing even more painful along with a fractured sternum.
Gordon was making good progress in the hospital. By the weekend [Saturday 13 August] the infection had cleared, and Gordon’s mobility was strong.
After spending more time recuperating in the hospital Gordon was able to finally return home to his family on Thursday 18 August.
When asked what he would say to those involved in the rescue, David said: 'They’re heroes. Without you guys, I have no doubt my Dad wouldn’t be here, honestly. And I think it’s amazing to do what they do voluntarily, absolutely amazing! I cannot thank you guys enough, I really can’t.'
Asking Michael Smith, RNLI lifeboat volunteer, about his feelings on the way to the call-out he said: 'I had a level head on the way out, we were discussing what we were going to do and what was needed.
'When we picked the casualty out of the water, all our plans and thoughts were forgotten, and we naturally picked up the RNLI casualty care training and it fell into place.'
Ruaridh McAulay, Coxswain at RNLI Campbeltown said: 'It is amazing to have such a positive outcome from a shout such as this and I would like to commend the D-class crew on their excellent work and how well they worked in dealing with the casualty.
'I would also like to thank the other emergency services involved with how well everyone worked as a team to give the casualty the best chance possible.
'Without volunteers from the local community this could have been a very different outcome and each one should be congratulated for the role they played in ensuring that a life was saved.'
The RNLI advise, if you see someone struggling in the water, please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
RNLI media contacts
Natasha Bennett, RNLI Regional Media Officer for Scotland, 07826 900639, [email protected]
Martin Macnamara, RNLI Regional Media Manager for Scotland, 07920 365929, [email protected]
RNLI Press Office, 01202 336789
For more information on the RNLI please visit rnli.org. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI News Centre rnli.org/news-and-media.
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 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 142,200 lives.
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.
Learn more about the RNLI
For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.
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.