On 2 July 2014 both RNLI Wicklow crews searched for a pregnant woman who was missing off the packed Silver Strand beach, a mile south of Wicklow Head. This is the moment they spotted her in the back of a cave.
Rocks stopped the inshore lifeboat getting close to the entrance so Crew Member Alan Goucher swam inside with a spare lifejacket.
The woman was curled up at the back of the cave, petrified. She didn’t want to move. Alan put the lifejacket on the casualty and brought her into an adjoining cave. Then he was able to get her out into the shallow water and into the hands of his crewmates in the D class lifeboat. Hundreds of holidaymakers watched on anxiously.
The woman was very cold and barely able to speak. They wrapped her in heat blankets and Alan put his arms around her to keep them from blowing away. They continued checking her vital signs and transferred her to their larger lifeboat. This all-weather crew continued to keep the woman warm and talking until they got her back to the harbour.
Believing their rescue work was done, the inshore volunteer crew then headed for the beach. They wanted to let any worried family know the woman was ok. Then they discovered two more casualties on the rocks: a frightened little girl and her mother, clearly in shock.
They called for a Coast Guard helicopter while Alan and a crew mate waded into the sea, scaled the rocks and began an intense 20 minutes of casualty care. Both mother and daughter were badly cut up. The little girl had a gash on her thigh that needed bandaging. She’d swallowed a lot of seawater and her breathing dropped suddenly. The noise and down-draught of the helicopter startled both mother and daughter but the RNLI volunteers calmed them as much as possible before they were airlifted to hospital.
While this was all going on, the all-weather lifeboat had handed over the pregnant woman to an ambulance crew and returned. Another person had been in difficulty in the water and needed medical attention. Lifeboat Mechanic Brendan Copeland headed through crowds on the beach to a lady with frightened youngsters clinging to her.
This woman had originally helped the mother and child (who were now being rescued from the rocks) out of a dangerous rip current. The first casualty, the pregnant lady from the cave, had also been there helping before the rip current swept her away. So what had started out a nice swim at the seaside had turned into a disaster for four holidaymakers.
The woman on the beach was the only one of the group who had managed to escape the rip. But she was shaking with shock, very cold, and getting sicker by the minute.
She was reluctant to leave the children but a friend on the beach offered to look after them. The RNLI volunteers then whisked the final casualty back to the lifeboat station, where paramedics took her on to hospital.