RNLI heroes called out from marriage to save six paddleboarders

The Ilfracombe RNLI didn’t let her crew’s big day stop them from saving a family that had washed up on a beach.

RNLI volunteers were called away from a wedding on Thursday, October 28 to help three adults and three children.

Volunteer crew members lined up with oars at the wedding of Ashley Witcombe, a volunteer crew, and his wife Cheryl. The photos had just been taken when pagers disrupted the occasion.

D-class inshore lifeboat Deborah Brown III was loaded by the Coast Guard at around 3:20 p.m. to a group of six who had stranded on a small beach near Lee Bay, three miles to the west of Ilfracombe. The group was paddleboarding and kayaking when they got stuck in the conditions.

The lifeboat was launched with Leigh Hanks at the helm and crew members Sophie Braund and Kim Jeffs. The volunteers took about seven minutes to arrive at the scene.

The conditions were a 5/6 southerly wind with a two-meter overhanging swell preventing the group from leaving the beach.

Leigh maneuvered Class D and performed a “turn” technique, where the anchor is deployed and the boat goes astern in the waves, using the anchor to keep the boat stable. Sophie’s volunteer crew went ashore to check on the injured, who were thankfully all unharmed.

When there was a hole in the shore break, Sophie guided three of the victims through the waves to Class D, and the anchor was retrieved as the lifeboat headed out to sea.

The injured were taken to Lee Bay and handed over to the care of the local Coast Guard team. The volunteer crew then repeated the same maneuver to recover the three remaining wounded and reunite them at Lee Bay.

All the victims were unharmed, although a little cold and damp. The volunteers returned to the station around 4:30 p.m. a little wet in the waves, and the lifeboat was prepared for service. A few hours later, the volunteers were back afloat for their weekly training exercise.

Leigh said conditions had been particularly difficult: “Here in Ilfracombe we are sheltered from the southerly wind but we are not immune to the swells, and that is what made conditions difficult yesterday, in blocking this group on the beach. They did the right thing, not trying to escape but waiting for help to arrive.

“As conditions get more difficult and unpredictable during the fall months, it’s really important that people be extra careful if they are considering entering the water.

“We hope the pagers haven’t disrupted Ashley and Cheryl’s special day too much, although I’m sure it’s something they’re both used to. This isn’t the first time pagers have sounded at a crew wedding, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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