Lifeboats to the fore - again for 2002

Looking back on 2002, do you think you've had a challenging year?If so, spare a thought for our lifeboat and search and rescue crews, who have risked their own skins helping at emergencies.

By Tracey Sparling

Looking back on 2002, do you think you've had a challenging year?

If so, spare a thought for our lifeboat and search and rescue crews, who have risked their own skins helping at emergencies.

Reporter TRACEY SPARLING looks back at the lives saved and dramas witnessed, off the coast of East Anglia.


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A HELICOPTER tragedy, a coaster drifting towards oil rigs, and a blazing houseboat containing a dog, cat and a parrot were among the dramas dealt with by the region's lifeboats last year.

Across the nation, lifeboats plucked thousands of casualties from the water in 2002 – inland as well as offshore. Hundreds of lives have been saved by crews from the UK's 230 lifeboat stations, which have dealt with river work and inland flooding as well as their more traditional duties.

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Lifeboat officials are still totting up the exact figures of lives saved, but said 2002 looked like being a typical year – with around 7000 launches, the same number of people rescued and around 781 lives saved.

Around the Suffolk and Norfolk coastline it was a similar story as local crews tackled a range of work from crashed aircraft and stricken ships to stranded holidaymakers and beached whales.

Search and rescue helicopter crew from Wattisham Airfield were also involved in helping at the scenes of many dramas off our coast. As The Evening Star reported on Thursday , crews were scrambled 137 times last year to both military and civilian emergencies.

Last year the squadron attended emergencies including the military Harrier that ditched at Lowestoft's air show, transferring the pilot to hospital and to a North Sea ferry in trouble, winching nine firemen on board.

The crews were also called to incidents including fishermen in difficulties; children stuck on mudflats off Southend Pier; taking injured horse riders to hospital; road accidents and transferring patients from hospital to hospital in emergency situations.

Suffolk saw dozens of launches, and many lives saved. A spokeswoman for the RNLI based in Poole, Dorset, said Lowestoft crew launched 16 times saved two lives, Southwold launched 12 times and Aldeburgh 15, until August 2002.

The latest figures are still being collated.

Weblink: www.rnli.org

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Harwich lifeboat helped in the aftermath of a yacht catching fire off the coast of Felixstowe in September.

In May, Walton and Harwich crews tackled a pier fire at Felixstowe.

One of the biggest East Anglian incidents was a gas rig helicopter crash in July, which saw the loss of 11 lives despite around 20 hours of painstaking search.

The Cromer rescue boat also had a similar marathon rescue in 20ft storm-force waves helping a coaster drifting towards gas rigs 23 miles offshore in April.

Lowestoft crew had its biggest ever audience for a rescue when it launched to help rescue the pilot of the Harrier jump jet that crashed into waves in front of 300,000 spectators at the seafront air show.

The local sailing ship Albatros, as well as getting stuck on the marshes, was also the centre of a rescue offshore in April when her anchor became fouled. It took some top seamanship by coxswain Allen Frary from Wells to tow the ship, with 11 people on board, into harbour.

At Great Yarmouth and Gorleston a "routine" year of rescuing injured fishermen and dealing with pleasure sailors in trouble saw the local crew working alongside the builders revamping the lifeboat station, which also took delivery of a new Atlantic 75 inshore boat.

Sheringham crew's year included plucking three fishermen to safety after their 18ft crab boat capsized in a heavy swell off Blakeney Point before towing the vessel back to Morston Quay.

Happisburgh inshore boat, whose rescues included towing a whale off nearby Ostend beach, has a problem after coastal erosion undermined its launch ramp, meaning the station is now talking to the local council and Royal National Lifeboat Institution headquarters about moving the boat elsewhere.

The RNLI's five-year vision includes seven new hovercraft, with one heading to Hunstanton to boost coverage on the Wash, where the prototype machine had a spell on trials.

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