Lifeboats and coastguard helicopter in operation to rescue kayaker trapped on rocks

Helicopter winches man to safety

Kayaker winched to safety - Credit: Marion Callaghan

Lifeboats and a coastguard helicopter mounted a joint operation to rescue a kayaker trapped and stranded at at Hillsborough beach, near Ilfracombe.

The Ilfracombe RNLI inshore lifeboat was launched just after 2.15 pm. on Friday August 6 after a report to the Coastguard of the lone kayaker on the rocks with the tide rising and large waves. 

The volunteer crew quickly launched the station’s relief D class inshore lifeboat, the Elaine McLeod Scott and the three crew made their way out of the harbour in grey skies and rough weather conditions with a west south west Force 6 wind of between  25mph and 31mph and two metre-high waves. 

Inshore lifeboat in high waves during rescue

Conditions were dangerous for the inshore lifeboat - Credit: Nikki Bradshaw

Arriving at Hillsborough beach, just a short distance from the harbour, the crew found the man and his sit-on-top kayak on the rocky beach below the cliff. He was dressed in trousers and a shirt and was without a buoyancy aid or lifejacket. Although the tide was rising, there was around 10 metres of rocky beach still exposed. In front of the beach there was a rolling swell and large 2m to 2.5m surf breaking on to the beach and surrounding rocks.  

Volunteer Helm Stuart Carpenter assessed the situation and decided that due to the difficult conditions and the location of the man, the ILB could not attempt to reach the beach.

It was then agreed that a crew member should enter the water and try to swim to the man to reassure him and to attempt to assist him to reach the lifeboat.

Ben Bengey entered the water and attempted to swim to the beach but turbulent water and poor conditions meant that he was unable to get past the breaking waves.

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Volunteer Ben said: "The conditions were the worst I have swam in, I went into the surf zone, and I just couldn’t get close to the beach."

Ben returned to the ILB and it was decided to take on extra crew to attempt a different approach.  

The ILB quickly returned to the station and an additional crew member taken onboard. The ILB returned to the scene and again assessed conditions to attempt to use the anchor and line to bring the ILB closer to the beach.

However, due to the conditions it was again decided that this could not be attempted, and the Helm requested that the all-weather lifeboat should be launched to use specialist rescue equipment.  

The ILB returned to the station and the all-weather lifeboat, the Barry and Peggy Hill High Foundation, was launched and quickly arrived on scene.

The rising tide had now covered more of the beach and only two metres of rocks were still exposed.

The ALB Volunteer Coxswain considered rigging a breeches buoy to reach the man. But the St Athan Coastguard helicopter was on exercise in the area and following communications with the Coastguard and with Ilfracombe Coastguard Search and Rescue team, who were monitoring the rescue from the cliff top, it was agreed that the safest way to rescue the man was by helicopter.

A winchman was lowered to the rocks and the man was finally winched to safety leaving his kayak on the rocks below. He was was taken to a nearby landing site and handed over to the care of the Ilfracombe Coastguard team who assessed him for any injury and gave him safety advice. 

The all-weather lifeboat then returned to station at 4.30 p.m.  But  due to the large swell in the harbour and around the slipway at high tide, the lifeboat was moored up until 8.45 p.m. when the crew returned to recover the lifeboat and prepare it for next service.  

RNLI Volunteer Coxswain Carl Perrin said: "The rescue was difficult due to the poor conditions and the location of the man on the beach with the strong winds and large waves driving onto the rocks. Fortunately, a helicopter was in the area and available to winch him to safety before the tide reached him, and this was good example of multi-agency co-operation. If the helicopter had not been available then it would have been difficult to reach the man, and a breeches buoy, which is rarely used these days, would have been the only option. The RNLI always recommend that if you are venturing out onto the water, that you check the weather conditions and always wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid and carry a means of calling for help."

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