Walmer RNLI crew members awarded for challenging rescue

Lifeboats News Release

At their Christmas Dinner on Saturday, 3 December, five crew members from Walmer RNLI received a Chief Executive’s Commendation Certificate for their involvement in a challenging rescue with two others receiving the station’s Operations Team Letter of Thanks.

RNLI/Christopher Winslade

On Mother’s Day in March 2021, a tasking request was received from Her Majesty’s Coast Guard for the station’s D Class lifeboat Duggie Rodbard II to launch to two adults and a child cut off by the tide near Ness Point in St Margaret’s Bay an hour or so before high water. The lifeboat met up with the station’s Atlantic 85 Donald McLauchlan which was already on exercise and swapped a crew member to give the D Class a fully competent crew. Soon after launch, the D Class helm gave a revised time of arrival on scene stating that the engine was not working as it should only allowing a speed of 13 knots. After checking fuel lines, and intakes for blockages the decision was taken to continue to the casualties. Due to the wind direction, the helm on the Atlantic offered his support enabling the smaller lifeboat to take two extra crew members to assist with the rescue in very challenging sea conditions. This left two crew standing by offshore in slightly calmer waters in case further assistance was required.

The casualties were located on an outcrop a couple of metres above the water. Swells were coming in from different directions and there were many rocks hidden beneath the lifeboat. The helm briefed two crew to attend to the casualties and get them into Covid-safe PPE while he and the remaining two stayed in the water keeping the boat head to sea, constantly battling stayed with the boat to prevent it smashing into the flank rocks. The sea was lifting the boat and throwing it back on to the chalk rocks behind. Underfoot was uneven.

Once the crew had the three casualties ready, they were asked to wait until the helm was ready for transfer to the lifeboat. The child was taken on board first but a large wave came over the bow engulfing the whole boat. As the second casualty boarded their shoelace snagged on the engine as another large wave broke over the boat. As the third casualty was taken on board the lifeboat was half full of water. With four crew now holding the boat the helm jumped in and attempted to start the engine. It didn’t start and the additional weight was causing the boat to start drifting beam-on and behind the rocks. Crew battled to keep the boat head-to-sea but kept it in a position of relative safety.

The engine eventually fired and one crew member jumped on board while the remaining three swam towards the Atlantic and were recovered safely from the sea.

As the lifeboat approached the landing point to transfer the casualties into the care of the local coastguard team, the helm asked for another crew member to be transferred into the D Class to help with recovery. Although the swells were minimal compared to the rescue site, the helm didn’t think it worth the risk. The coastguard team send two of their volunteers into the water with drysuits and lines to help recover the casualties. The helm’s plan was to nose on to the beach, evacuate the casualties and spin the boat to head back to sea. However, three more swells broke over the stern and the lifeboat was now beam-on with water to the top of the sponsons. Crew managed to turn the boat and refloated to return to station.

At the time of the rescue, Helm of the D Class lifeboat Dan Sinclair stated that this had been the most challenging rescue he had been involved in both mentally and physically. He commended the crew of both boats involved, highlighting their outstanding performance.

The RNLI have awarded a Chief Executive’s Commendation certificate signed by Mark Dowie. Crew involved in the rescue ashore were Neil Franks, Dan Sinclair, Colin Varrall, Dan Wilmshurst and Ben Winslade. The Commendation reads, ‘This was a demanding service for crew who achieved the successful rescue of three people. Your determination and commitment to saving lives at sea is greatly appreciated’ and is signed with the Chief Exec’s personal thanks.

Speaking during the presentation, Operations Manager Denis Brophy personally thanked Atlantic helm Dave Mitchell and crew member and Max Shelton for their role in the rescue, and highlighted Dave’s decision making which made for a safer rescue and their ability to recover the three lifeboat crew from the sea after they had swum from the shore, allowing the D Class crew to deal with the casualties. He presented both with a letter of thanks from the station’s Operations Team in appreciation.

Notes to editors

Walmer lifeboat station was established in 1856.

It currently operates two inshore lifeboats – a B Class Atlantic 85 Donald McLauchlan and a smaller D Class Duggie Rodbard II.

Crews have received 28 Awards for Gallantry

To find out more about Walmer lifeboat station go to https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/walmer-lifeboat-station

Photo 1 Crew members Neil Franks, Dan Sinclair, Operations Manager Denis Brophy, Ben Winslade and Colin Varrall with their Commendations. Missing is Dan Wilmshurst.

Photo 2 Neil Franks, Dan Sinclair, Denis Brophy, Ben Winslade, Colin Varrall and Dave Mitchell. Kneeling: Max Shelton.

RNLI media contacts

  • Chris Winslade, Lifeboat Press Officer, Walmer Lifeboat Station on 01304 374475 or 07906 623037 [email protected]
  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

RNLI/Christopher Winslade

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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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