18 June 2018
A race against time: ‘We had just minutes to get there’
Stranded in rising water while trying to fetch her dog, Caroline could only call 999 and hope that help would make it in time.
‘What could it be?’ That’s always the first thought Silloth lifeboat Crew Member Andrew Stanley has when the pager goes off.
‘On the way to the station I could see we were in a flood tide,’ he says. ‘By the time we climbed aboard the lifeboat, we knew we were going to somebody who couldn’t swim, stranded at sea, on the roof of a car. Urgency was high.’
Three other crew members joined Andrew on the B class lifeboat Elaine and Don Wilkinson, including Senior Helm Steve Henderson.
‘We knew the casualty was in immediate danger,’ says Steve. ‘We were told the vehicle was submerged. We had just minutes to get there, and get her to safety.’
Despite ideal weather conditions, getting to Caroline proved anything but straightforward.
‘In that area there are very big boulders,’ says Steve. ‘We had to go really slowly to avoid damaging the boat.’
The other concern lay in finding Caroline before it was too late.
Walking on water
‘We had a large search area, between two villages on the coast,’ says Steve. ‘But it wasn’t a large target – not like a vessel. We were really pleased when we spotted her, and that she was actually on the vehicle.’
‘It was like she was walking on water,’ adds Andy Rowe, who was also onboard that day. ‘We approached cautiously – we couldn’t tell which way the vehicle was facing and couldn’t risk hitting it. So we stopped a short distance away.’
Crew Member Stewart Henderson was in for a surprise: ‘Twenty yards out, I recognised Caroline. She’s the mother of someone I went to school with. I’ve known her all my life.
‘She was clinging to the car, clearly distressed. Once she saw us you could tell she was delighted – but that’s often when people let their guard down. I reassured her: “Everything will be alright. Don’t panic. Stay there.”’
‘You’ve nicked my parking spot!’
‘We train regularly in and out of the water,’ says Andrew. ‘It was so calm that day that I wasn’t concerned for my own safety. I jumped in, swam to the car, grabbed hold, and put my feet through the open window onto the windowsill.’
‘I joked: “You’ve nicked my parking spot!” and then asked if she was okay. She asked me about her dog.
‘Then I said: “Climb on my back. We’re going to the boat.” She was a bit concerned but she grabbed hold. She was in the water less than 60 seconds.’
‘Andy Rowe and I pulled Caroline and Andrew aboard,’ says Stewart. ‘She was soaked and hypothermic. We focused on getting her warm – I gave her my gloves, and wrapped her in an ambulance pouch for the trip back to the boathouse.
‘When we got there, a female crew member took Caroline to the changing rooms and offered her dry clothes while we waited for the ambulance.’
‘Caroline was very lucky,’ says Andrew. ‘It must have been terrifying. If she’d tried to get to shore, she’d have lasted maybe 7 minutes. That’s the reality.
‘I’m immensely proud of myself and the crew. Preventing somebody’s death – what better thing can you do?’
Visiting the coast with your waggy-tailed friend this summer? Read our dog walking tips to make sure you both stay safe.