RSPCA Honour for brave lifeboat team from RNLI New Brighton

Lifeboats News Release 18/05/2015

  • Author: Bob Warwick

A team from New Brighton lifeboat station received the prestigious RSPCA Bronze Gallantry medal awarded by the animal charity for putting their lives on the line during the rescue of a dog in dangerous seas in the River Mersey in February.

The presentation was made during The RSPCA Honours Award Ceremony in The Law Society buildings in London, on Saturday 16th May, with an audience of 300 RSPCA staff, volunteers and supporters. The other recipients of the bravery award went to a police officer and a large team from RSPCA involved in horse rescue during flooding.

The award to the RNLI team composed of the lifeboat crew, tractor driver and shore based Deputy Launch Authority [DLA] overseeing the operation. It was based on the following incident that occured on the 24th February this year:

When New Brighton lifeboat station received a launch request around 2:30 pm on 24th February from HM Coastguard it was almost on top of 9.2 metre spring tide and that combined with a 35 knot north westerly wind large waves were breaking against the sea wall at New Brighton and fuelling a violent confused and aggressive sea. Early information was sketchy but we learned that a person had gone into the sea to try and rescue the dog but had managed to get back on shore. Conditions were on the operating limits of the New Brighton Atlantic Class Lifeboat. A difficult decision was faced by Graham Lowe the DLA in conjunction with the crew and tractor driver decided to proceed to the normal launch site which proved to be unsafe so our Head Launcher Ian Warburton driving the tractor decided to head down to the slipway at Egremont Ferry where conditions were hopefully not as severe.

It was very obvious that in the risk benefit scale, with regards to a lifeboat operating very close to a sea wall, there was a real risk of capsize, loss of lifeboat and the loss of life of four crew.

As they proceeded along the promenade they were met by a large number of people throwing lifebelts into the stormy sea in an attempt to assist a small dog which could be seen struggling in the angry confused sea. An estimate of the height of the waves was approximately 1-2 metres but when they crashed against the sea wall they were reaching in excess of 4 metres. HM Coastguard officers were having difficulty persuading people not to go in to the sea after the dog. Our DLA stayed at the scene and communicated by radio with the lifeboat that there was no one in the water but the dog was struggling but still alive.

Although there was great risk for the crew it was obvious to the crew if they didn’t launch then the dog would drown. Ian Warburton utilised all his experience to safely negotiate the slipway and place the boat head to sea in order to launch. The lifeboat was under the command of the Senior Helmsman Dave Lowe who utilised all his experience and seamanship to launch the lifeboat into heavy seas facing breaking waves in excess of 2 meters with his crew Helmsman Paul Mountford, Tim Weare and Matt Gill hanging on for dear life.

They shortly reached the scene and decided that the helmsman would put the boat alongside the dog which would leave the boat exposed to the waves and possible capsize, one would monitor the waves coming in, in order to move the boat head to sea and escape if needed and two remaining crew to rescue the dog. As the lifeboat approached the scene the dog was almost totally submerged struggling to keep its head from the water. It looked totally exhausted and the crew feared the worse.

It took several attempts in difficult conditions before they managed to get the dog on board. Hanging on for their lives the lifeboat then had to negotiate large waves to get clear and back out to the river to the relative safety in that they would be clear of the sea wall.

Two crew members comforted the dog, who was placed in a casualty bag to protect it from the elements, then began rubbing its chest gently. The dog began to bring up sea water similar to a human who would have been pulled out. The dog was coughing and showed great signs of survival which lifted the crew immensely and the decision was made that the quickest and safest way to get the dog the medical help it needed was to land it at Seacombe Stage to a waiting Coastguard team and to a vet.

Due to the difficult conditions the lifeboat was recovered using the RNLI’s emergency net recovery technique where the lifeboat is driven bow on into the carriage and its progress stopped by a large net. On finally returning to the lifeboat station, after turning the lifeboat ready for the next launch, to the distress of all involved they learned of the sad demise of the dog.

We also learned that the owner of the dog who had gone into the water but reached shore again had been taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

Dermot Murphy, the RSPCA’s Interim Assistant Director Inspectorate, said: “The RSPCA has a proud history of dedication to ending animal cruelty and preventing suffering. It is a history that will continue long into the future thanks to the magnificent work of our inspectors and front line staff. “However, there is no doubting the enormous role played by other organisations, campaigners and tireless individuals to furthering the cause of animal welfare. “The Honours recognise those people from both inside and outside the RSPCA who have gone above and beyond in their contribution to protecting and helping animals. “It is thanks to them that thousands of animals are able to lead happy and healthy lives today.”

Senior Helmsman at RNLI New Brighton Dave Lowe commented after the ceremony “During any year crews throughout the RNLI are called on to save many animals which they always do to their best ability. We are pleased to accept this award not only on behalf of our station but also our colleagues throughout our charity. It is so important that we get the message out to pet owners that if a pet does end up in the sea  humans should not go in the water after it as they will more than likely end up as casualties themselves, thus compounding a difficult and distressful situation.”

Graham Sale, Lifeboat Operations Manager at New Brighton Lifeboat Station, who nominated them for the RSPCA Honour. He said: “The courage, skill and determination shown by the lifeboat crew in their attempt to save the dog was second to none. No one would have criticised them for deciding not to launch given the conditions and the risk of failure was extremely high and the risk to their own lives was unbelievably high yet they risked their own lives in an attempt to save the poor distressed dog.”

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