PHOTO 180212 Launch pic

The photo above is from the day of the launch in October

Photo 180212 Roger Jackson

Helmsman Roger Jackson

I am delighted to attach a press release that announces awards are to be granted to three of our crew at Exmouth RNLI. The awards are one bronze medal and two vellums for gallantry after a rescue last October in very difficult conditions. The last time a crew member received a bronze award at Exmouth was back in 1954.

The three crew are obviously delighted at this news.

Jo Damsell
Exmouth RNLI voluntary press officer

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ROYAL NATIONAL LIFEBOAT INSTITUTION

EXMOUTH LIFEBOAT STATION – 23 OCTOBER 2011

CAPSIZED POWERBOAT – FOUR LIVES SAVED

At 4.28pm on Sunday 23 October 2011, Brixham Coastguard contacted Exmouth Deputy Launching Authority (DLA), Mr Neil Hurlock, to inform him of a reported capsized Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) in the River Exe estuary, with several people in the water.

At home nearby to the station, and fully aware of the prevailing conditions, the DLA considered the speed of response required against the nature of conditions at the estuary, and authorised the immediate launch of the inshore lifeboat. At 4.36pm The D class inshore lifeboat George Bearman launched and proceeded towards the scene, 0.5nm to the south of the station. The lifeboat was under the command of volunteer helmsman Roger Jackson and crewed by volunteer crew members Andrew Williams and Mark Champion.

Coincidently, before the RIB had been seen to be in difficulties, on the afternoon of 23 October 2011, a small number of the Exmouth lifeboat crew were gathered in the station crewroom. Whilst observing the rough conditions of the River Exe estuary through the window, they discussed how they might launch the inshore lifeboat in such extreme conditions and how many extra crew this might require should there be a service callout.

Weather conditions were cloudy, with a near gale force onshore wind from the southeast and good visibility. It was only 30 minutes after high water, and the tidal stream was generally southerly, ebbing out of the estuary at approximately 2 knots. Although not at its fastest ebb, this first hour is notorious as being the most difficult time to be entering the estuary channel; this is when it is at its worst, combining depth with a fast flow.

As the crew observed the conditions from the crewroom, they saw a RIB with four people onboard as it passed the station, heading out towards the estuary mouth.

Moments later, and after the RIB had passed out of sight from the crewroom window, the vessel was seen by members of the public along the seafront, to capsize throwing all four occupants into the sea. One observer immediately dialled 999 reporting the incident to the coastguard, while other members of the public who witnessed the incident frantically signalled to the lifeboat crew through the crewroom window to attract their attention and alert them to the incident.

The crew were paged at 4.32pm, and as they prepared for launch the station coxswain/mechanic, Tim Mock, arrived at the station. Taking time to assess the conditions fully together with the location of the casualty, he was content that the launch should continue. Knowing that four people were in immediate danger of becoming separated from the up-turned hull, that the casualty and inshore lifeboat could be observed from the station, Tim Mock immediately paged the launch of the Mersey class all-weather lifeboat in support of the inshore lifeboat. Meanwhile, the Portland coastguard helicopter had also been tasked to the incident, but it would not arrive on scene until all casualties were recovered.

Negotiating a 1-1.5 metre surf at the launch site from the beach at the foot of the ramp, and employing two additional crew in support, the inshore lifeboat launched and headed into the main part of the channel. Here they were already battling against some harsh conditions as the near gale strength wind was blowing hard across the opposing 2 knot ebb, and where steep-faced, standing waves of 2-3 metres in height (from trough to crest) had already formed.

Not only did these conditions hamper the lifeboat’s progress as the crew concentrated on choosing a safe route, but they also prevented any means of the lifeboat crew observing the position of the casualties, as they headed out towards their last reported position. Conflicting reports on the precise location of the casualty compounded the confusion, while radio contact became extremely limited as the crew hung on to the lifeboat, keeping weight forward as they encountered each wave.

The sea state then increased, the waves now an estimated 4 metres in height (from trough to crest), and threateningly steep with breaking crests. The lifeboat was now within the most notorious area of the channel, according to the station coxswain, the worst possible area under extreme conditions, for the inshore lifeboat. The water depth here was in the order of 4 metres as the channel runs between east and west sand bars. Here the crew had to work tremendously hard to keep the lifeboat upright, while helmsman Roger Jackson negotiated the safest route with skill, using the lifeboat’s full power to climb the face of the very large waves, before punching through the crest, and then dropping steeply off the back of each wave and disappearing into the trough behind.

Only minutes later, the crew caught a glimpse of the casualties through the wind-driven spray. Three were wearing wetsuits only, while one who was fully clothed wore an inflated lifejacket. All were sat atop the RIB and desperately trying to maintain contact with their upturned craft. Roger knew that time was of the essence. All four casualties could still be separated and lost amidst the dangerous, confused and large seas, their chances of survival then being significantly reduced. Noting the large amount of hazardous floating debris, including lengths of rope and fenders, which was strewn around the casualty vessel and which threatened their own safety, Roger manoeuvred into position approximately 5 metres clear from the casualty in order to make voice contact.

This achieved, and once all were accounted for, he directed the casualties to swim to the lifeboat one at a time on each pass, unable to maintain the lifeboat position adequately close by, and for long enough to pick all up in one pass. On each approach, Roger had to judge the situation with the approaching waves precisely, timing his call to each casualty to start their swim whilst the boats sat between crests, in order for each to reach the lifeboat and be recovered aboard, before the next crest was encountered.

With the first casualty onboard, Roger and his crew continued to negotiate the 4-metre seas in order to reposition the lifeboat. Watching and physically battling with each wave required careful selection of a route in order to anticipate the effects of the seas and avoid the debris. Knowing that timing would be absolutely critical to their success, and judging his moment on each occasion carefully, Roger repeatedly turned the lifeboat about to run down-sea to commence his next run in and recover one casualty at a time.

Each time with the weight of an extra person to contend with, Roger adjusted the trim of the lifeboat accordingly to ensure its optimum performance at all times, both into and down sea. The casualties were pulled from the sea one by one over the shoulder and into the lifeboat by both crewmen, who immediately returned to their trimming duties by keeping their weight forward. Other than being very shaken by their ordeal, and suffering from the cold, the casualties were otherwise all physically fine. With little time available between waves, boat manoeuvres and recoveries, the crew were unable to provide any additional care at the time, but instead worked hard and persevered to get the job done as quickly as possible before returning to shore.

With all four casualties successfully recovered onboard, and the performance of the lifeboat severely affected, Roger safely returned the lifeboat to the station. Running before the large waves under normal circumstances would have been extremely challenging, requiring high degrees of alertness and skill, whereas now with seven men aboard, Roger and his crew fought hard to navigate amongst the waves, often taking avoiding action as the waves broke behind them, using all the power the engine could deliver whilst trimming the weight as far aft as possible.

Keen to deliver the casualties to the beach in the shortest time possible, Roger realised that recovery onto the lifeboat trolley would be extremely hazardous under the conditions at the foreshore, and opted to beach the lifeboat high up onto the sand, selecting the biggest wave to do so.

The beaching of the lifeboat was expertly achieved at 4.59pm; all casualties were subsequently handed into the care of ambulance paramedics, who assessed them all carefully before releasing them.

The lifeboat was recovered to its trolley by hand and ready for service at 5.15pm.

Roger Jackson applauded his crew for their tenacity and teamwork, and praised the RNLI training he and his crew had received, which made the service possible.

The D class inshore lifeboat and its equipment operated correctly throughout the service and Roger gave praise to the lifeboat and its performance under immensely difficult conditions.

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