Sinking woman rescued from mud tomb after terrifying cliff-slip ordeal at Trimingham, near Mundesley

The winchman and woman are lowered to the clifftop by the coastguard helicopter . Picture: MARK BULL

The winchman and woman are lowered to the clifftop by the coastguard helicopter . Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

A woman who lay sinking in thick clay after sliding down a steep seaside cliff is today 'extremely lucky' to be alive, says a coastguard chief.

The middle-aged woman is believed to have been trapped in the mud, shouting for help, for more than an hour in near-freezing temperatures, before the alarm was raised by a clifftop walker. She was lying flat and so covered in mud that a coastguard rescuer at first failed to spot her, or her pet dog which was standing on her.

And it was about another hour before she was winched to safety in a rescue drama which involved some 20 coastguards and a coastguard helicopter, plus firefighters, police and an ambulance crew.

The woman's terrifying ordeal began yesterday morning. She was standing on the lonely clifftop coastal path at Trimingham, near Mundesley, taking photos when her pet terrier decided to head down the cliff.

She went after the dog, realised she could not get back up the slippery slope, weakened by recent heavy rain, and decided to slide to the beach at the bottom.

But about three quarters of the way down - some 30m from the top - she slid into thick, deep clay and was completely trapped.

With no phone signal, the woman lay helpless for about an hour until a man on the path above heard her shouts shortly before noon and called the emergency services.

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Sam Baggaley, deputy station officer with Mundesley Coastguard, went down on lines to the woman from the clifftop.

'I couldn't see her at first. She was completely covered in mud,' said Mr Baggaley.

'I was with her for about an hour and during that time she sank another six to eight inches into the mud.

'I was up to my knees in mud and kept on sinking - I lost my boots and socks down there - it was just awful.

'She was very happy to see us and kept apologising for getting us out, but I told her that's what we're here for.'

Realising that they could not free the woman from the mud, chiefs summoned the coastguard helicopter from Humberside airport.

Meanwhile Mr Baggaley put the dog in an animal rescue bag and went back up the cliff, barefoot, with it, leaving his coastguard colleague Christon Illife to comfort the woman, who said she was on holiday from her home near Cambridge.

In a delicate and skilled operation, the powerful Rescue 192 helicopter, which arrived at about 12.45pm, hovered close to the cliff edge and a winchman was lowered to the stricken woman.

He put a harness around her and the helicopter sucked the mud-covered pair out of the clay and lifted them to safety on the cliff top.

The woman, who is believed to have been uninjured, was taken to hospital by land ambulance for a check up.

'I think she was close to getting hypothermia - it was very cold down there,' said Mr Baggaley. 'She's an extremely lucky woman.'

The helicopter and winchman then made a second trip to recover Mr Illife from the mud.

Keith Griffin, Happisburgh and Mundesley Coastguard station officer, praised the combined efforts of all the emergency services, and the man who had raised the alarm.

'It it wasn't for him and for the helicopter, we could have been looking at a fatality here,' said Mr Griffin.

And he pleaded with clifftop walkers: 'Please keep your dogs on leads.'

Coastguard teams from Sheringham and Cromer and firefighters from Mundesley, Sheringham, Carrow and the Urban Search and Rescue team were also involved.

Were you the Good Samaritan who raised the alarm? Contact alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk