RNLI film documents remarkable 1981 hurricane rescue

In the wake of Thursday’s ferocious storm – now known worldwide as ‘Hurricane Bawbag‘ thanks to Scottish Twitter users – the north of the UK and Ireland breathes a collective sigh of relief.

While extensive damage was caused by the winds, which gusted to 165mph, no-one was seriously injured or killed by the most violent weather to hit the UK in a generation.

Modern communications and preparedness saw most people staying sensibly indoors. While there are many reports of boats breaking moorings, the Coastguard and RNLI had surprisingly little storm-related offshore work to do*.

It is a very different scenario than that of 30 years ago, when two English Channel callouts in similar hurricane-force conditions saw tragically different outcomes.

Over Christmas 1981 the nation mourned the loss of an entire lifeboat crew and the vessel she went to help. On 19 December, in horrendous conditions, the coaster Union Star foundered against Cornish cliffs. The Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne launched – but contact was lost and there were no survivors from either vessel.

This devastating incident overshadowed a remarkable rescue. Less than a week before the Penlee tragedy, on 13 December 1981, the cargo vessel Bonita was overwhelmed by two massive waves and rolled on her side, to remain listing at 45°. St Peter Port‘s lifeboat Sir William Arnold battled the heavy seas to reach her, and 28 of the 30 on board Bonita – including the families of two crew members – were saved.

Thirty years on, the RNLI has made a commemorative film about this event:


(*example 8 Dec 2011 shouts from inverclydenow.com)

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