Drama as Lowestoft Lifeboat rescues 11 people from sinking dive boat

The crew of Lowestoft Lifeboat were involved in one of the most dramatic incidents witnessed for many years after 11 people had to be rescued from a sinking vessel.

What was planned to be a recreational dive almost turned into tragedy as the 11 men aboard a 33ft boat were pulled to safety by the town's RNLI lifeboat as the waves crashed over them.

The 'swift actions' of the six-strong volunteer crew on the Spirit of Lowestoft Lifeboat were praised by coxswain John Fox - who described yesterday's events as a 'major incident' with a 'great job done by the town's lifeboat.'

One of the men aboard the 10-metre recreational dive boat said he and the others were 'extremely lucky' that the lifeboat was so close.

The man, who didn't want to be named, said: 'They are worth their weight in gold and I take my hat off to them. The service we had, I don't think you could get any better.'

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He said that the dive boat was returning back to shore, when 'something went wrong' and water was soon up to his ankles. 'It was then up to my knees, and then my neck...it was that quick,' he said.

The drama unfolded about a quarter of a mile to the north east of the town's harbour entrance at about 12.10pm yesterday. The lifeboat was on a training exercise, when crew spotted the dive boat in trouble, in what were described as choppy sea conditions. There was also a southerly force four wind, which is just under 20mph.

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Four people were trapped in the wheelhouse as the boat sunk at the stern. They managed to escape through the wheelhouse window.

All 11 people on board were safely rescued from the waters by the lifeboat crew, with four people subsequently taken to hospital for treatment for 'diesel ingestion' and shock.

The majority of those rescued are believed to be local, from Lowestoft, Ormesby and Bedford.

Mr Fox said: 'We left at 10am and were out on an exercise helming with the crew. We actually saw him (the dive boat) as it left, and as we were coming back at about noon we saw the boat again.

'It looked like he was coming in, and hadn't actually been for the dive, but it was in a bit of trouble. The next thing it was down by the stern and they were baling out - and the next thing we knew it had gone under.

'You could see three of the guys in the wheelhouse, with their faces by the glass - they must have been terrified,' the coxswain admitted.

The RNLI Lowestoft Lifeboat, with six crew on board, were making their approach into the harbour and by an amazing coincidence, they were by the side of the sinking boat within a couple of minutes.

'There was no Mayday call - it just happened by a sheer stroke of luck that we were there,' Mr Fox said.

All 11 men were in the sea, and they were quickly pulled onto the lifeboat by the hard-working crew.

Mr Fox added: 'If they had been further offshore it could've been a different story - it was as lucky as that really.'

Later in the afternoon the town's lifeboat returned to the dive boat, as it drifted with the flood tide. After initially getting stuck on a sandbank, it quickly drifted past the town's harbour and ended up at teatime last night just past Ness Point, with the underside of the bow of the boat still visible.

Mr Fox said: 'We just wanted to make it secure and picked up bits and pieces - such as some of their kit and the buoy we had put into the water.'

Having been coxswain of Lowestoft Lifeboat for five-and-a-half years, he added: 'I have been on the lifeboat for more than 20 years and I have never had to rescue that many people in one go like that.

'It is the most that I have ever been involved in pulling out of the water in one go. I would like to pay tribute to my crew. It was their swift work and the guys in the water who stayed calm as it was a very major incident.

'It was a great job done by the crew and the town's lifeboat,' Mr Fox added.

Andrew Sutherland, station officer at Lowestoft and Southwold coastguard, praised all of the emergency services that were involved.

He said: 'Great Yarmouth coastguard received a 999 call about 12.07pm, and we were then called out. The East of England Ambulance Service were called by Yarmouth Coastguard as well. An excellent job was done by the lifeboat crew and the Lowestoft Coastguard teams assisted with the casualties.'

With ambulance rapid response cars called to the scene to help casualties who were cold from being in the water. A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service confirmed four of the people who were rescued have been taken by ambulance to the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston.

She said: 'We were called at 12.16pm to reports of 11 people in the water. We sent three rapid response vehicles and one ambulance to the scene.'

The service's three rapid response vehicles stayed on scene, near the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, to treat the other seven people rescued, who were uninjured but cold from being in the water. They were re-warmed at the scene and did not require hospital treatment.

Last night, a Lowestoft Lifeboat spokesman added: 'It was so fortunate the lifeboat was on a Sunday morning exercise that it saw the boat clearly in trouble.

'It was able to be on the scene without any delay and rescue the 11 people who had been on board it.'

? Just a few hours after rescuing the 11 people from a dive boat, the crew of Lowestoft Lifeboat was called into action once more.

The volunteer RNLI crew responded to reports of a yacht that had ran aground on a sandbank 'more or less opposite' the CEFAS building in south Lowestoft.

A lifeboat spokesman said: 'We were called out about 5pm to reports that a yacht, with two people on board, had ran aground. The yacht had damaged its rudder on the sandbank and had to be towed into harbour by Lowestoft Lifeboat, arriving at about 6.25pm.'

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