AN RNLI crew member has recounted how a man was pulled from rough waters after light from his phone – held above his head as he clung to his life jacket – helped save him when rescuers spotted it in ‘pitch black’ conditions.
Robin Fitzgerald (44), who was at the helm of the St. Catherine’s lifeboat during the challenging late night search and rescue operation near the Ecréhous reef on Friday – said the rescue was one ‘you will remember for the rest of your days’.
A light from the casualty’s mobile phone meant the crew was able to quickly locate him – and helped save his life, said Mr Fitzgerald.
The lifeboat launched after reports came through of a French vessel taking on water in the vicinity of the reef around 9.30pm.
Mr Fitzgerald said the crew were paged for an immediate launch, indicating that ‘something quite significant was happening’.
‘I then phoned our duty launching authority to get a briefing from him and we made our way down to the lifeboat station. When we arrive, the duty crew get kitted-up and a briefing is conducted so that the crew know what’s happening and what we are going to. Just after that briefing we had an update that said the person was now in the water, which upped the ante a little bit,’ he added.
Shore-based crew helped prepare the lifeboat and, shortly after 10pm, the team was at the scene and searching for the person – who they found around ten minutes later.
‘We made our way north using the searchlights to try and find the person and then, we didn’t know how far away it was, but a light suddenly appeared north of us which isn’t usually there. When it’s pitch black, you are able to spot a light that is abnormal,’ Mr Fitzgerald explained.
‘We continued searching – as we weren’t sure what that light was or how far away it was – and as we made our way north we came across him in his life jacket with his mobile phone by his head, trying to keep his life jacket around him because it wasn’t done up correctly.’
He acknowledged that the mobile phone had ‘definitely’ helped to save the man’s life – by shortening the time it took to find him – but stressed that the crew had continued to carry out a thorough search of the area in case the light turned out to be something else.
During the rescue, one of the RNLI crew was unintentionally pulled into the water by the man in his state of desperation.
Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘I think that sort of calmed the situation down a bit – Jason [the crew member] was able to reassure him a bit more and we pulled him onto the boat and got Jason back on.’
The man was quickly transferred to a French all-weather-lifeboat and taken back to France for medical assistance.
‘It does make things a lot more challenging when it’s dark and as rough as it was,’ Mr Fitzgerald said.
‘After we handed him to the Carteret lifeboat there was a moment on board where we just reflected on what happened.
‘You actually realise that what you’ve done there is to save that man’s life. You train and you train and go out to other jobs, but these ones you will remember for the rest of your days.’