The volunteer crew of Newhaven Lifeboat launched at 2.20pm on Saturday 15 October with the request from HM Coastguard to search, locate and assist four people, including one child, cut off by the tide near Cuckmere below the Seven Sisters.
Conditions were overcast, with good visibility. Newhaven’s Severn class All-weather Lifeboat, David and Elizabeth Acland, launched into a moderate south westerly cross-shore breeze, with slight sea state and 1.25 metres of swell.
Lewis Arnold, Coxswain, says, ‘Newhaven’s volunteer crew readied the Y-class for deployment whilst we made best speed to the casualties.’
Once on scene, with visual contact made, the Y-class was launched. The casualties were on a section of beach with approximately two metres or less of dry space, huddling in a chalky cove.
‘The weather conditions on scene were at the upper limits of the Y-class capabilities, however, due to the timing of the wave formation and an incoming tide, it was deemed achievable to execute a rescue.’
The casualties had been enjoying a walk along the beach when they were caught out by the incoming tide. The group consisted of three adults and a four year old child. There was a fifth person in the group who had swum out to go and raise the alarm.
‘Two volunteer crew proceeded to the shore in the Y-class. They kept a good look out for rocks, conducted a quick survey of the beach area and carried out a couple of run ins to and out of the shore to establish the safest route for evacuation.’
John Simcock, Navigator, says: ‘The casualties were very distressed by their situation and for the safety of the fifth member of their group who had swum in. We were able to give them reassurance that the other person was well and provide some comfort whilst the best rescue procedure was decided.’
Whilst the Y-class was on route to the casualties, HM Coastguard radioed the information that a helicopter had been approved for launch. It was jointly agreed the safest evacuation from the beach would be to winch and crane the casualties by helicopter, one by one, around to a dry section of beach.
John Simcock, Navigator, says: ‘We assisted on the ground with the helicopter rescue, which took 1 hour 45 minutes to execute. By this time we had been on scene for three hours. The tide had turned, the wind speed had increased and the surf picked up. It was a very inhospitable environment to be in and very the group remained extremely exposed and vulnerable below the cliff.’
The rescue was successfully completed as planned. The two Newhaven volunteer crew attempted to relaunch the Y-class lifeboat and return to the waiting Severn class in deeper water. However, due to the surf, steep beach and fatigue, this was aborted and instead a plan was made to wait for the tide to fall further and with the assistance of the Coastguard Rescue Team (CRT), the lifeboat was carried along the shore and returned with her crew to Newhaven Lifeboat by road.
Lewis Arnold, Coxswain, says, ‘Tides rise quickly and can easily catch people out. If you’re planning a coastal walk or seaside activity, we strongly urge people to check the weather and tides before setting out.’
‘If you do get into difficulty or see anyone else in trouble in the water, please call 999 immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’