Helmsman in line for top award

Cullercoats RNLI helmsman Robert Oliver is to be awarded one of the RNLI's highest honours  for the courage and seamanship he demonstrated when saving the life of a 12-year-old boy in Brown's Bay.
Cullercoats RNLI helmsman Robert Oliver is to be awarded one of the RNLI's highest honours for the courage and seamanship he demonstrated when saving the life of a 12-year-old boy in Brown's Bay.

A Cullercoats Helmsman, who saved the life of a 12-year-old boy in Brown’s Bay last October, is to be awarded one of the RNLI’s highest honours.

Robert Oliver is to be given the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum for the courage and seamanship he demonstrated when the youngster had been washed out to sea by a large wave while he was playing on Cullercoats promenade.

Helmsman Oliver, and two other crew members Grahame Wood and Stephen Potts put their lives and their vessel at risk to save the boy during the incident on October 26 last year.

The lifeboat launched at 3.51pm without the usual fourth man, and with the position of the casualty, close to rocks and the promenade meant that Helmsman Oliver only had one chance to manoeuvre the lifeboat alongside the boy so that the two other crew members could lift him to safety.

The decision to award the 46-year-old was made at a meeting of the charity’s Trustee Committee on Wednesday February 15. Crew members Wood and Potts will receive a joint letter of Thanks by the RNLI Chairman.

RNLI Deputy Divisional Inspector said: “The selfless actions of the crew undoubtedly saved the boys life. Helmsman Oliver’s ability and the confidence he inspires in his crew are outstanding and testament to his knowledge and skill as a helmsman.

“The crew only had one chance to get it right - any other course of action could have led to a much less positive outcome.

“Helmsman Oliver informed me that his legs were shaking after the service which, coming from a man, means that it was extremely dangerous and something out of the ordinary.

“He had to use all his considerable experience and nerve to effect a successful rescue, and under is guidance and leadership, his crew were willing to fully commit themselves to this challenging rescue situation.”

The 12-year-old, who had been wave dodging with his brother on the promenade, was rescued after onlookers dialled 999 and members of Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade were on the scene to keep the boy in their sight until the lifeboat arrived.

In a tricky operation Helmsman Oliver manoeuvred the boat out through breaking seas via a narrow channel at the north of Brown’s Bay between the promenade and Table Rocks.

Despite the risk of damage by this course of action, it was the only exit route from the bay as turning round in heavy seas would not have been possible.

The youngster was taken to Cullercoats Lifeboat Station before being airlifted to Wansbeck Hospital by RAF Rescue Helicopter 131.

He made a full recovery and has since been to the station with his family to say thank you.