Falmouth RNLI’s new shop manager’s life was saved in dramatic 1995 rescue
Lise Vittrup was recently appointed as the volunteer shop manager at the charity’s shop at Falmouth Lifeboat Station but her first contact with the RNLI occurred when her life was saved by the crew of Brighton’s inshore lifeboat crew in September 1995.
The rescue resulted in the RNLI awarding a Silver Medal to the lifeboat’s helm and a Bronze Medal to the other two crew members.
This was the first time in the history of the RNLI that all three crew members of an Atlantic inshore lifeboat had been awarded Medals for Gallantry for a single service. The Atlantic 21 inshore lifeboat Graham Hillier and Tony Carter with Helmsman Richard Pearce and crew members Martin Ebdell and Edward Purches, launched just before midnight on 7 September 1995 in response to a report of two girls being swept into the sea near Brighton Palace Pier. They had been caught by the undertow and ended up under the pier about 20 yards offshore.
Despite there being a Force 4 to 5 onshore wind at the time of the incident, the sea and surf state had remained high due to a south westerly gale blowing earlier in the day. The lifeboat helmsman was surprised how vicious the sea was so close to the shore.
The lifeboat crew only had an approximate position of the two girls but, in very difficult conditions, they managed to locate them under the pier. Unfortunately while manoeuvring in the confined space, the lifeboat’s sponson burst as a result of being punctured by a hidden metal spike. The bow and part of the sponson immediately deflated which left the lifeboat open to the seas. Despite the difficult conditions and one crew member suffering a broken finger, severe bruising and a twisted knee during the rescue, both casualties were brought aboard the inshore lifeboat. They were both in a distressed state and suffering from hypothermia. The helm managed to manoeuvre the lifeboat clear of the pier and into quieter water but it was too damaged to continue the service unaided. The casualties and the Brighton inshore lifeboat crew were transferred to the Newhaven all-weather lifeboat and landed at Brighton Marina. The two girls and the injured lifeboat crew member were then taken to hospital.
At the time of the incident Lise had just moved to Brighton to start a fine art photography course and had found a flat to share with her friend. They had spent the day and evening decorating and had arranged to meet some friends for a last orders drink. They then walked down to the sea front to get some chips and socialise. Lise explained what happened:
‘It was a nice evening and quite warm as I remember but the sea was a bit wild. I had no intention of going into the water. I grew up by the sea; I sailed and was a member of the sea scouts so I had respect for the sea. However I had never encountered a pebbly beach like Brighton before and it didn’t occur to me how different it could behave and I didn’t fully understand the dangers of the English Channel.
‘My friend and I were standing at the edge of the water and we got knocked over by a breaker. At first we thought it was funny and we laughed but then we got knocked over by another wave and this time when I tried to get to my feet, we were swept out. I just went into survival mode and instinctively knew that I didn’t want to waste my energy swimming, I knew we had to save our energy by floating which was possible once we got beyond the breakers even though the sea was quite wild.
‘At this point the pier was still a distance from us. I had hold of my friend as she was having a bit more trouble than I was. Eventually we got close enough to the pier to make a break for it. I decided that there was more chance of being found under the pier than out in the open water. I had hold of my friend all the time and together we managed to scramble up onto the struts underneath the pier. We were knocked off a few times by the waves but clambered on again. In the end I worked out how to get onto the side where the waves would press us against the structure rather than push us off.
‘My friend was losing strength and she just wanted to sleep. I was holding onto her wrist and I just screamed at her to keep going. When I saw the lifeboat coming in under the pier I knew we were safe.’
Lise continued: ‘It really did have an effect on my life. I didn’t go near water for years after the incident. It was frightening thinking about being in water but then I moved to Cornwall and decided it was time to go back in the sea so I went for a swim and fell back in love with the water.
‘I have always had a special place for the RNLI because of what happened and have always looked for the RNLI when putting money in charity boxes. I found myself having time to be able to volunteer so I looked on the RNLI website and saw there was a vacancy for a shop manager at Falmouth Lifeboat Station. I have experience in retail management so I knew it was something I could do.
‘I want to help raise money to help the brilliant crews that go out to save lives at sea. I owe my life to the RNLI, there’s no doubt about that. I was lucky to get rescued that night; the skill of the lifeboat crew was amazing.’
Notes to editors
- The BBC featured this rescue in an episode of their 999 series. This can be viewed on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/zj1zMEDuRWE
RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Simon Culliford, RNLI Volunteer Deputy Lifeboat Press Officer on 07971986978 or [email protected] or Emma Haines, RNLI Regional Media Officer [email protected] or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
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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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