This exercise took place on Sunday March 22nd but this report has been delayed out of respect for the victims of the Alpine Crash
Weston Bay is on the approach and landing paths for two major airports, Bristol and Cardiff. In living memory Weston RNLI has been called for three aircraft in trouble in the Bristol Channel. They are determined that if it ever happens again they will be ready.
The Weston RNLI volunteers had a ‘shout’ at 7 pm on Saturday evening. A man and a woman had been exploring the rocks near Birnbeck Island and had underestimated the speed the tide rises. They soon found themselves surrounded by the sea which was about to rise way over their heads. They called for help and the D Class lifeboat was launched from Knightstone Harbour. The two were soon picked up by the lifeboat and handed over to the Coastguard unharmed, if rather wet. The lifeboat and crew returned to base ready for the next day.
Sunday morning is a normal exercise time for the Weston volunteers. This Sunday the Weston Lifeboat Training Coordinator, Jennie Williams, organised a special event. An exercise was planned whereby a dummy crashed and broken up aeroplane was established in Weston Bay at low tide. The dummy tailplane, remarkably realistic, had been built by the volunteer RNLI crew led by helmsman Andy Stone. It was towed out and anchored with a number of casualties on board (mainly shore crew who should have known better!).
Part of the exercise was to practice working with our colleagues in the other emergency services. Thus the casualties in the downed aircraft were to be extracted from the plane, have their injures treated on the lifeboats and then transferred to the Avon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Hovercraft, to be transported to the beach where they would be dealt with by the local Coastguard. The Hovercraft, Firefly, cannot go on the sea and so is used for mud rescues. Low water was deliberately chosen as it meant the lifeboats would not be able to transport the casualties directly to the land.
The crash was marked by the dummy tail plane on which six survivors were marooned. As the lifeboats arrived four survivors were actually in the water. These were brought aboard first. They were assessed by the crew and the most seriously hurt, including one whose heart had stopped, were rushed back by the Atlantic 75 to the shoreline and transferred to the hovercraft. The D Class lifeboat took the less injured but had to wait until the hovercraft returned from the beach as it can only carry two injured casualties.
The survivors who were still on the aeroplane were assessed to be less badly injured so they could await recovery. Once the lifeboats had taken the seriously ill to the hovercraft then the last survivors on the plane could be taken off to be recovered.
As it was very low water, once the exercise was complete the lifeboats, the support boat and the aircraft had to wait for the tide to rise before they could be recovered at Knightstone Harbour. They had hoped to do some more exercising with the hovercraft but its skirt was damaged so this part had to be called off.
One of the casualties was Chris Garrett who was an ambulance crew member from Great Western Ambulance who gave up his off duty Sunday. He commented ‘It is always a fascinating to watch the RNLI at work. They dealt with everything with great professionalism and skill.’