Wells lifeboat crew honoured for daring rescue

A Wells inshore lifeboat crew and its stand-in helmsman have won an RNLI commendation after saving the life of a capsized sailor.

It could easily be argued that they're all heroes; the volunteer rescuers who selflessly launch into lurching seas to help those in danger.

But one Norfolk lifeboat crew – and their unflappable helmsman in particular – has been singled out for praise after saving the life of a stricken sailor.

Wells lifeboatman Darren Eaglen was presented with an RNLI letter of commendation yesterday for leading the rescue of a man whose dinghy capsized in the entrance to Burnham Overy harbour on August 15.

The 25-year-old crewman dashed to the boathouse in response to a 999 call – but there were no qualified helmsmen on hand, while the casualty was being dragged further away from shore by a powerful outgoing tide.

The urgency of the situation meant a baptism of fire for Darren, who was put in charge of the port's inshore lifeboat for the first time to negotiate dangerously choppy waters in a life-or-death race to locate the sailor.

But after stepping into the breach to bring the struggling seafarer to safety, the modest life-saver shrugged off any suggestion of bravery or heroism.

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'You don't really get to think about stuff like that, because your mind is on the job,' he said. 'It was just a matter of time. The sea conditions were not great but we had to get the boat out quickly because we knew there was a man in the water.

'Although it was summertime, the water was not that warm and he was not wearing a life jacket, so if we had not got there in time he would have died. All the lads on the boat knew what they had to do.

'It was a bit of a shock to the system when I got the post, but it went really well. I feel proud. It is a big achievement for me and for the station.'

Darren, who lives on Northfield Lane, has been a member of the Wells lifeboat team since volunteering as a 17-year-old. He was busy doing his day job as a groundsman at the Orchard Caravan Park in Wells when he received the pager call.

During the rescue he was assisted by fellow crew members Danny Roberts, 46, and the station's youngest volunteer, 18-year-old student Tom Hogan, who were both also applauded in the commendation.

Tom, who was working in Wells at the Globe Inn during his summer break from studying at Exeter University, said: 'It was my first really intense shout, but I was just happy to do my part. I was not thinking about the consequences, I just wanted to help in any way I could. '

The crew launched within nine minutes of the emergency call, and located the casualty about 11 minutes later – by which time, the man had already drifted more than half a mile out to sea in the grip of the tide.

Wells lifeboat operations manager Chris Hardy said: 'It's not often the station gets a letter of commendation. It was a life-threatening situation and we had to act immediately.

'The sea was extremely choppy but we had no hesitation in putting Darren out there as helmsman because he is a very experienced crew member and time was of the essence because, once you lose sight of the casualty from the shore in those conditions, they can very soon become just a dot in that expanse of water.'

Lifeboat coxswain Allen Frary said: 'It proves the value of all the training the lads do. At the end of the day, these lads have done a great job and this commendation is very well deserved. They don't just hand these out – you have to earn them. Without a shadow of doubt the man in the water was in very grave danger, and if Darren had not found him as quickly as he did, we could have been looking at a much more serious end to this service.'

The commendation letter from RNLI operations director Michael Vlasto says: 'This was an excellent service, demonstrating fine seamanship and teamwork by all involved.'

?The value of Wells' RNLI station was proved following yesterday's presentation when the all-weather lifeboat was called to assist a fishing vessel which was taking in water three miles off the coast of Stiffkey. Rescue crews helped pump out the hull of the Audrey Patricia so it could continue its journey.