Gravesend RNLI lifeboat in dramatic rescue

The crew of Gravesend RNLI lifeboat were scrambled today to a dramatic rescue of a group of people whose vessel sank within seconds of hitting a submerged object in the River Thames.

The crew were tasked by the London Coastguard at 11am today (Tuesday) to come to the aid of a 27 foot yacht which had sunk off Tilbury Marshes, East Tilbury. They ended up saving the lives of four people who were in immediate danger.

The people on board the vessel were en route from Whitstable up the estuary towards London when they hit a submerged object and sank in just ten seconds. The crew consisted of the owner of the yacht, a 45-year-old male, his daughter, 15, and two 19-year-old males. Not only were all four plunged into the icy depths of the Thames within seconds, but the teenage girl was in her sleeping bag at the time of the incident, and had not managed to get out by the time she was submerged in the water.

Graham Tassell, helmsman of Gravesend RNLI lifeboat, said he and fellow crew members, helmsman David Greenfield and volunteer Roy King, were at the scene within one minute of being tasked by the Coastguard. Graham said: 'They were in the water for a total of ten minutes. They had made a Mayday call at 11.05am, the Coastguard traced the call and tasked us to assist at 11.19am, and we were on scene and carrying out our rescue at 11.20am.'

'It was quite a tense one. Although they all wore foul weather gear, only the yacht owner was wearing a lifejacket. Even so, he was only semi-conscious and after being in the water for such a short time his body temperature had dropped about five degrees to a life threatening level.'

'We think the yacht hit something that ripped the bottom of the boat off, completely destroying the keel. We understand she was travelling at about 5-6 knots and against the wind and the tide.'

Graham added: 'Because the daughter had been in her sleeping bag at the time of the incident, she hadn't managed to get out and was struggling inside it in the water. We saw her go underneath at least twice during the rescue.'

Fortunately, a boat belonging to the Port of London Authority (PLA), the Lady Aieleen, was in the water nearby. The crew of the lifeboat Olive Laura Deare II pulled the skipper and daughter from the water and took put them aboard the PLA vessel. They then tended to the remaining two males who had managed to make their way to the mud line of the river but were knee high in mud.

'Having got to the mud bank they were reluctant to come back into deeper water', said Graham,'but we couldn't get the lifeboat up at such low tide. Instead, our helmsman, Dave Greenfield, went over the side with a safety line attached and managed to coax them back to the water so they could come onboard the lifeboat.'

'We had already called ahead for ambulances so by the time we and the PLA got back to the pier, they were waiting to take them to Darenth Valley Hospital in Dartford.'

The close call for the yacht crew had a somewhat sweet ending thanks to the rescue efforts of Gravesend RNLI, as Graham explained: 'The young girl was pretty distraught by all of this when we were all back at the lifeboat station pier. She had lost her teddy bear, but we even managed to rescue that from the water, she seemed to cheer up quite a lot when we handed him back to her, a little sodden, but still intact.'

But the morning's events also serve to carry an important safety message, as Wayne Bellamy, Thames Lifeboat Duty Manager explained: 'Here was a yacht, in fair weather, travelling at a normal speed, yet they ended up in this dreadful situation. The RNLI always reminds people that basic safety precautions are so important, for example wearing a lifejacket.Fortunately they all survived and have avoided becoming a cautionary tale, but if they had been further out at sea that could easily have been different.'

'I am extremely proud of the crew of Gravesend RNLI lifeboat for the quick response which enabled them to save the lives of four people who otherwise would have died. Their actions are a credit to the RNLI and I am very impressed with their speed and quick thinking.'

Date Added - 17-Feb-2009

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