23 December 2016

Swept out to sea: How training and dedication saved the lives of two teenage boys

When two teenage boys found themselves drifting out to sea, they soon realised they were in real danger. With the tide going out and daylight fading fast, the boys would soon be swept out too far to get back to shore. Luckily for them, an off duty lifeboat crew member was close by.

A warm summer’s day was winding down on the coast at Skinningrove, North Yorkshire. It was Sunday 28 August and many locals were making the most of the bank holiday weekend. Gas Engineer and Trainee Crew Member Sam Shelley was enjoying a walk with his girlfriend and dogs down by the beach.

Trainee
Crew Member Sam Shelley, who first spotted the boys in dangerPhoto: RNLI/James Dwyer
Trainee Crew Member Sam Shelley, who first spotted the boys in danger

‘I’ve been on the crew at Staithes for over 6 months now,’ says Sam. ‘I’ve done quite a lot of training on the boat and got quite a few modules out of the way.’ Little did Sam know that his vital crew training would soon come into its own.

As he walked alongside the beach, he spotted some young people playing in the sea. Two teenage boys in particular caught his eye. ‘They were going a bit far out, so I took the dogs over and thought: “I’ll just go on the jetty and watch them for a minute.” I was only watching for like 10 seconds when they started shouting for help.’

The two teenage boys were using a piece of roof insulation board they’d found as a float. While buoyant, it was also difficult to control. With the tide taking them out faster than anticipated, they soon found themselves too far out to swim back. Sam’s training kicked in.

‘Before my training, I wouldn’t have known who to alert in that situation. I’d have rung 999 but I wouldn’t have known what to do from there. Now I know exactly what to do.’

Sam called 999 and informed the Coastguard of the situation. He then sent a text message to his fellow crew members at Staithes and Runswick RNLI.

The
view of Skinningrove Beach from the jettyPhoto: RNLI/James Dwyer
The view of Skinningrove Beach from the jetty

An anniversary dinner interrupted

Three miles down the coast from Skinningrove at Staithes, Tees Pilot and Lifeboat Helm Lee Jackson was sitting down for dinner with his wife. ‘It was quite a nice summer’s evening and it happened to be my wedding anniversary so I’d booked a table at a local restaurant. We’d just sat down and were looking at the menu when I saw somebody run past the window.’

That somebody was Luke Hutchinson, a fellow crew member. ‘His mum works in the restaurant and she came to me and asked: “Did you just see Luke run past the window?” My pager hadn’t gone but I presumed it was a call-out so I made my apologies and ran out of the restaurant.’

Lifeboat
Helm Lee Jackson, who had to leave his wife at the dinner table Photo: RNLI/James Dwyer
Lifeboat Helm Lee Jackson, who had to leave his wife at the dinner table
‘We knew one of our own was there to keep an eye on the situation’
Lee Jackson
Helm, Staithes and Runswick RNLI

By the time Lee arrived at the lifeboat station at Staithes Harbour, many of the local crew members were already there. ‘One of the launching authorities was there and he said there was a report of two boys in the water at Skinningrove. We knew we had to get going as quickly as we could.’

Sam’s text message had proved vital. Most of the crew members were at the station before their pagers had activated, making the launch of the B class inshore lifeboat Pride of Leicester very quick.

‘It was approaching low water, so the lifeboat had quite a long trek before it actually launched,' Lee recalls. 'Then we were told to head for Skinningrove Pier. We knew one of our own was there to keep an eye on the situation. So once we were in the water, it was a case of getting there as quickly and as safely as we could.’

Staithes
and Runswick Lifeboat StationPhoto: RNLI/James Dwyer
Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station

Failing light

While the lifeboat crew raced to the scene, Sam did his best to keep the boys calm. ‘I was shouting at them to try and keep calm. They were scared and crying out. I was trying to tell them that the lifeboat was on the way.’

Panic can easily set in when caught in a situation like this. Even though staying where they were was the safest action they could take, getting the message across was difficult. ‘They were trying to come towards the jetty, so I was shouting at them to stay away. I know it seems like the wrong thing to do, but I just tried to tell them to wait for the crew.’

With the sun setting and light failing fast, finding the boys quickly was a top priority. ‘The advantage was we had two boys on a floating object, which meant they were more visible,’ says Lee. ‘If you’re looking for one person in the water, you’re looking for a football-sized head.’

The combination of the floating board and Sam’s prompt action meant the boys were soon spotted.

With the boys found, the next step was to pick them them up safely. ‘We assessed the conditions, the wind and the tide, so that the lifeboat wasn't blown down onto them. We wanted to pick them up first time because we didn’t want them to panic and leave the board they were floating on.’

Having safely manoeuvred the lifeboat alongside the boys, Lee’s fellow Crew Members Luke Hutchinson and Richard Pennell pulled them onboard.

With no help available on Skinningrove Beach, Lee decided to take the boys back to Staithes Lifeboat Station. ‘We reassured the boys and tried to get them warmed up. As soon as we got back, the carriage was ready to recover the lifeboat and we then transferred the boys to the waiting ambulance crew.’

Pleased, relieved and proud

‘I was proud of the crew. It made my mind up that it’s definitely what I want to do.’
Sam Shelley
Trainee Crew Member, Staithes and Runswick RNLI

Tragic incidents across the country were on Lee’s mind throughout the shout. ‘The rescue happened at a time when there had been a dozen drownings around the coast. So we were very pleased, relieved and proud to rescue the two young boys and get them safely back to their families.’ The entire rescue, from launch to recovery, took less than 15 minutes.

Lee was full of praise for their trainee crew member. ‘Sam being there firstly added to the speed of us getting there, and secondly helped to control the situation until we got there. As soon as he saw something happening, he made exactly the right call and knew what to do. He knew to call 999 and ask for the coastguard.’

Sam watched the rescue of the teenage boys from the pier. ‘As soon as I saw the lifeboat coming towards them, I knew they were in good hands. I was proud of the crew. It made my mind up that it’s definitely what I want to do.’

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