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20.02.2012 - DUNGENESS 12 27

Silver Gallantry Medal for Dungeness RNLI lifeboat crew member

Updated on 17 May 2012 - RNLI Annual Presentation of Awards - click here for more

Author: Laura Fennimore, Public Relations Officer

Dungeness RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew member Garry Clark is to be awarded a Silver Medal for Gallantry – one of the RNLI's highest honours. This is in recognition of his exemplary bravery and determination during the rescue of seven people from the yacht Liquid Vortex on 3 January 2012. Garry played a critical role in saving seven lives during a rescue, which took place in fierce storms and involved Garry being transferred to the casualty vessel.

His fellow crew members will also be recognised for their role in the dramatic rescue. Dungeness RNLI Deputy Second Coxswain Mark Richardson and Mechanic/Deputy Second Coxswain Trevor Bunney will be awarded Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum. Silver Medal Service Badges, Certificates and a Letter of Appreciation signed by the RNLI's Chief Executive will be awarded to Deputy Second Coxswain Roger Gillett and Crew Members Simon Collins, Terence Ashford and Jeff Henderson.

The Dover RNLI lifeboat crew, who were also involved in the challenging rescue, will be recognised. Coxswain Mark Finnis, Deputy Second Coxswain James Clapham, Mechanic Lee Hand, and Crew Members Michael Vaughan, Paul Abbitt, Wayne Sherwood and Ian Miller, will receive a Letter of Appreciation signed by the RNLI's Chief Executive.

Early in the morning on 3 January 2012, in force 9 severe gales, rough seas and poor visibility, the Dungeness RNLI all-weather lifeboat was requested to launch to the yacht Liquid Vortex. This vessel was struggling in extreme weather conditions three miles east of Dungeness Point, with five of its seven crew suffering from seasickness.

The volunteer crew launched the lifeboat at 5.40am. Once at sea, the conditions worsened to storm force 10 winds, with waves of around 7–9 metres high. On arrival at the scene, the crew found the casualty vessel being battered by the rough seas. While the crew assessed the situation, an enormous wave struck both vessels from behind, spinning the yacht through 180 degrees. The skipper immediately transmitted a Mayday call, reporting that the yacht's helmsman had been smashed against the helm, suffering injuries and damaging the steering. This left the skipper as the only person aboard the yacht in a fit state to work with the lifeboat crew during the rescue. The inflatable liferaft, which had been tethered to the back of the yacht, had also been swept away.

The first attempts to transfer two lifeboat crew onto the stricken yacht were unsuccessful due to the horrendous weather conditions so instead the crew tried to set up a tow. It took several attempts to position the lifeboat close enough to throw a line across to the yacht. A tow was established but, after just 20 minutes, with the yacht twisting violently, the line snapped.

With the situation becoming increasingly dangerous, Deputy Second Coxswain Mark Richardson tried again to get two crew on board. Garry managed, despite the conditions, to leap from the bow of the lifeboat onto the yacht. By this time, the weather had deteriorated further, with winds gusting to force 11, so Dover RNLI all-weather lifeboat was also requested to launch to assist with the planned tow back to Dover.

While Dover RNLI lifeboat crew were on their way, Garry was aboard the yacht – which was being tossed around in violent seas – making an assessment of the casualties. He saw there were two men in the cockpit with the skipper. In the rear cabins, he found a man who was responsive but in pain and bleeding, and three females suffering severe seasickness. After assessing the casualties, Garry worked with the skipper to re-establish a tow line. Just six minutes later, the line parted again. It was impossible to stand up. All movement around the yacht was by crawling on all fours.

Deputy Second Coxswain Richardson repositioned the lifeboat and Garry managed to secure a third tow. While re-securing the tow, the tow line snagged under the yacht, meaning Garry had no choice but to lean over, putting himself in even more danger, and cut the tow line. The lifeboat crew managed to re-establish a shorter tow and ploughed on through the rolling seas. At one point, a huge wave crashed over the lifeboat's deck, nearly sweeping one of the crew overboard. He was quickly saved by a fellow crew member grabbing a strap on his lifejacket.

By 9am, Dungeness lifeboat crew had been battling the appalling conditions for three-and-a-half hours. Both Dungeness and Dover lifeboats had attempted to set up a tow but the conditions proved too difficult. Garry then worked with the skipper to pull and bend the wheel to a point where it could be used. The yacht was twisting heavily in the seas but the skipper was able to steer the yacht behind Dover lifeboat, freeing Garry to go back and check on the yacht's crew. The casualty with an injured jaw and chest was in significant pain so Garry requested pain relief from Dungeness lifeboat, and helped administer it to the casualty.

At 9.40am, the rescue helicopter arrived and the four casualties in the cabin were winched off the yacht by 10.25am. Eventually, in a more sheltered area of the coast, Dover lifeboat managed to secure a tow line and began heading for Ramsgate harbour. Garry remained aboard the yacht and, with the wind now gusting to a violent storm force 11, assisted in steering it behind Dover lifeboat to the safety of Ramsgate. They all finally berthed at 12.20pm after an exhausting six-and-a-half hours at sea in the most appalling conditions.

Andrew Ashton, RNLI Divisional Inspector of Lifeboats, East, said:

'This was a long and gruelling service in increasingly perilous conditions. Crew member Garry Clark demonstrated the utmost courage and determination, boarding the yacht and managing multiple tasks, to ensure a safe and successful outcome, while in turbulent seas. Garry's bravery and actions epitomise the traditional values of the RNLI.

'Deputy Second Coxswain Mark Richardson and Mechanic/Deputy Second Coxswain Trevor Bunney showed highly commendable competence, professionalism, leadership and boat-handling skills. In addition, the rest of the Dungeness and Dover crew are also to be commended for playing a crucial role in the rescue, enduring horrendous sea conditions to ensure seven lives were saved that day.'

The RNLI Medals for Gallantry are presented to recipients at the charity's Annual Presentation of Awards at the Barbican in London in May of each year.

BBC South East Today news report broadcast on 21 February 2012

Notes to Editors

Summary of the awards from this rescue are as follows:

Dungeness Lifeboat

The RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry is to be awarded to:

  • Crew Member Garry Clark

RNLI Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum to be awarded to:

  • Deputy Second Coxswain Mark Richardson
  • Mechanic / Deputy Second Coxswain Trevor Bunney

RNLI Silver Medal Service Badges and Certificates and a Letter of Appreciation to be awarded to:

  • Deputy Second Coxswain Roger Gillett
  • Crew Member Simon Collins
  • Crew Member Terence Ashford
  • Crew Member Jeff Henderson

Dover Lifeboat

A collective Letter of Appreciation for:

  • Coxswain Mark Finnis
  • Deputy Second Coxswain James Clapham
  • Mechanic Lee Hand
  • Crew Member Michael Vaughan
  • Crew Member Paul Abbitt
  • Crew Member Wayne Sherwood
  • Crew Member Ian Miller

View - Dungeness Silver Medal rescue - full rescue scenario (Credit RNLI)