For two dramatic rescues

Two RNLI crewmen were yesterday presented with RNLI Bronze Medals for Gallantry for saving lives at sea.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent presented the medals to Dunbar Coxswain Gary Fairbairn and Portrush Crew Member Anthony Chambers at the charity’s Annual Presentation of Awards at the Barbican Centre, London on Thursday 27 May. 

The photograph shows the two men with their medals at Tower Lifeboat Station in London.

Castlerock Strand
Anthony Chambers (50) Mechanic/crew member at Portrush lifeboat station, Antrim, Northern Ireland, was awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) Bronze Medal for Gallantry for rescuing two 14-year-old boys trapped by the rising tide in a cliff cave near Castlerock Strand on 5 August 2009.

The RNLI’s all-weather and inshore lifeboats at Portrush launched to help with the search operation as soon as the alarm was raised by worried parents. The sea conditions and rising tide made all attempts to reach the boys futile.

Crew Member Karl O’Neill entered the water to swim to the boys but was hindered by backwash; fearing for Karl’s safety, Helmsman Gerald Bradley recalled him to the lifeboat.

After observing the situation, Anthony Chambers, crew member on the all-weather lifeboat, volunteered to enter the water and swim into the cave as he believed he could reach the boys, who were trapped right at the back of the cave chest-deep in water.

Fighting against the elements in almost total darkness, he was smashed against the cave wall before reaching the boys for the first time. Rescuing them one at a time, it took Anthony 30 minutes to complete the difficult and treacherous return-swim twice with the rising tide against him.

Yacht Ouhm, Firth of Clyde
Gary Fairbairn Coxswain at Dunbar lifeboat station was honoured with a Bronze Medal for Gallantry  in recognition of his courage, judgement and exemplary boat handling during the rescue of a skipper and his wife from the stricken yacht Ouhm on the night of 15 May 2009.

In a force 8 gale and very rough seas with swells of up to 7 metres, the skipper of the 8-metre Swedish yacht Ouhm issued a ‘Pan-Pan’ call on his VHF radio – the request to launch the RNLI Dunbar lifeboat soon followed.

The yacht was reported to have suffered two knockdowns and the skipper was finding it difficult to cope. The two people onboard were drifting at speeds of up to 5 knots towards the north side of the Firth of Forth.

With the crew in their seats the lifeboat soon cleared the breakwaters and made best speed towards the yacht. However, further offshore several breaking seas hit the lifeboat as the swell became larger and the wind increased to a severe force 9 gale.

At one point as Coxswain Fairbairn continued steaming towards the Ouhm, the lifeboat fell 10 metres from the top of a large wave. Soon afterwards she was hit on her starboard side by a huge breaking wave, causing her to turn over through 90° onto her side and putting the port side wheelhouse windows underwater.

The self-righting lifeboat swiftly returned to the upright position.

The lifeboat reached the yacht at 7.45pm to evacuate the couple. As there was no liferaft aboard, Coxswain Fairbairn had the difficult task of getting alongside the small yacht in 10 metre seas. The lifeboat was hit by a wave as she neared the yacht, but Coxswain Fairbairn applied full power astern to keep the vesselsapart. On the second approach the crew were able to grab the woman and pull her aboard the lifeboat and at the same time a lifejacket was thrown to the skipper. On the third approach alongside Ouhm the man was pulled from the deck and over the guardrails of the lifeboat.

The couple were then taken to the safety of the wheelhouse and then back to dry land, the yacht having been abandoned.