Read about the dramatic RNLI rescue mentioned in this month's MBM
RNLI helmsman Gavin Forehead took his craft inches from the base of rocky cliffs to save the lives of two stranded surfers.
A man and a 12-year-old girl were in danger of being swept to their deaths in a powerful swell at the mouth of this treacherous cave (left).
Forehead, aged 29, of St Agnes lifeboat station, will be awarded the RNLI’s Silver Medal for Gallantry for his actions.
Read on for the RNLI’s official account of the rescue:
“The fast moving rescue took place at Chapel Porth, half a mile south of St Agnes Head, on Sunday 16 October. At 2.05pm the St Agnes RNLI inshore lifeboat set out, with five crew on board, to exercise with the Royal Naval search and rescue helicopter from Culdrose.
No sooner had the exercise started, than a real-life emergency began to unfold when Falmouth Coastguard requested the help of the lifeboat after receiving reports of people in trouble at the cove.
With a large surf running, fast flooding tides and 30 metre high cliffs surrounding the cove, Helmsman Forehead immediately grasped what the lifeboat would be up against and decided to return two crew members back to base. He then made good this small delay by using his local knowledge to navigate a short cut inside rocks off St Agnes Head.
Upon reaching the scene it was not clear who needed help as there were many surfers in the water. After an initial assessment the crew spotted four surfers in difficulty, two of whom managed to return to shore, but the other two, a young girl and a man, were being swept towards a small cave.
Two other surfers, ex-local authority lifeguards Tom Roberson (28) and Jamie Kent (35), had also spotted the group and were on their way to offer help, Roberson using his surfboard and Kent swimming.
RNLI Training Divisional Inspector, Howard Ramm says of the pair: “They acted with little thought for their own safety, the girl was swept from rocks at the cave entrance to the back of the cave by a high wave, and had the surfers not guided the casualties up on to the ledge, then there would not have been enough room for the lifeboat to get into the cave to rescue them.”
Helmsman Forehead repositioned the lifeboat off the cave entrance. He could see all four people on the ledge but knew taking the lifeboat into the cave would be a last resort.
He was certain if he misjudged a manoeuvre of this type the result could potentially be fatal for someone. However, after the lifeboat took three steep breaking waves over the bows and just cleared a fourth, Helmsman Forehead noticed an obvious lull and acted; applying full power and turning sharply to port he ran down sea to the cave entrance.
Once at the cave he decreased power, then applied full power to starboard, turning the lifeboat through 180 degrees within a boat’s length to face up sea.
Shouting to the casualties ‘are you ready?’ he drew backwards and stopped the lifeboat a metre from the ledge.
The girl jumped but missed the lifeboat and went under the water, the second casualty jumped in after her. Straight away Crew Members Rory Bushe and James Watkins reached under the water, grabbed the girl and lifted her aboard.
The second casualty shouted for the crew to get the girl clear, but Helmsman Forehead was confident he had time, and was not prepared to leave a person in the water. The second casualty was recovered aboard, again by Crew Members Bushe and Watkins.
Howard Ramm continues: “Helmsman Forehead’s actions were truly representative of a helmsman completely in control of the situation. His appreciation of the risks to his own crew balanced against the changing situation, allowed him to make some excellent decisions. His thorough and dynamic risk assessment ensured his crew were only committed when absolutely necessary after exhausting all other options.
“There is no doubt the actions of all concerned saved the lives of a young girl and a close family friend.”
RNLI Crew Members Rory Bushe (22) and James Watkins (20) will each be presented with the Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum for their part in the rescue as will surfers Tom Roberson (28) and Jamie Kent (35).
Both Roberson and Kent encouraged those on board the lifeboat to leave the cave while they still could. Helmsman Forehead was confident that, as experienced surfers, they could look after themselves and, once he had seen them begin to make their way back out, and indicating they were okay, he raced to get the casualties back to shore.
At 2.40pm both casualties were landed at Chapel Porth, but, concerned for the safety of Roberson and Kent, the lifeboat re-launched. Roberson had successfully paddled his board clear of the break, however Kent was only 15 metres clear of the entrance. He was paddling one of the casualties’ surfboards and looking tired, so the lifeboat ran inshore to bring him on board.”