Courage of RNLI crew recognised

FOUR members of a borough lifeboat crew have been praised for their courage and skill during a dangerous sea rescue.

A special ceremony has been held at Cullercoats RNLI station in recognition of the incident on Whitley Sands on June 20, 2010.

The crew, along with RNLI beach lifeguards, Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade (TVLB) and a helicopter from RAF Boulmer, were called out after a man was swept into the sea.

Despite dangerous sea conditions including 30ft high waves, strong winds and shallow depth of sea with dangerous rocks, the crew of Peter Clark, Gary Hawksford, Robert Oliver and Grahame Wood were able to get near the casualty.

They anchored the boat a little way off the man, and reversed towards him which reduced the risk of being swamped by incoming waves.

Captain Peter Lilley, of the TVLB, watched the rescue.

He said: “The lifeboat crew were at great risk for the duration of their attempt to reach the casualty and there were a number of occasions when the lifeboat looked like it was being swamped by the large waves.

“This included one incident where the boat was tossed violently in the air by a wave, at one stage being almost vertical, before crashing back down to the sea.

“For the crew to initially indicate that they felt it was too dangerous to attempt to rescue the casualty acted as a clear indicator to the severity of the situation.

“The fact that they then did attempt to reach the casualty and came within a few feet is a great testament to their determination and bravery.”

A lifeguard attempted to reach the man but was swept northwards and swam ashore.

The casualty was pulled towards the water’s edge where the shore-based rescuers were able to pass a rope as he was swept close to the sea wall.

The lifeboat members were presented by station chairman David Wakinson with letters of commendation praising their courage, skill and seamanship, and these were signed by the RNLI’s director of operations Michael Vlasto.

At the same ceremony, helmsman Paul Tooke received an RNLI long service medal while lifeboat man Seb Littlewood received a letter of thanks for his years in lifeboat crews in Wales and Cullercoats.

A presentation and thanks were also give to Reay Richardson, of Cullercoats Post Office, who helped sell the station’s Christmas cards, raising more than £1,000 in the process.