Local MP David Heathcoat-Amory stepped into the pilot's seat of Burnham-On-Sea's rescue hovercraft on Friday (April 1st) during a special visit to the station in which he met crew members and attended the group's annual general meeting.
The Wells MP took time out from his busy schedule in the run-up to the general election to meet Alan Miller, chairman of BARB, the organisation that runs the hovercraft, and Pete Emery, a long-time crew member.
The MP was clearly impressed with what he saw and later told an audience of 50 people gathered in the Town Council's chambers for BARB's annual meeting: "I'm proud by what you've done here for Burnham-On-Sea."
"With dedicated teams of rescue services covering the coastguard, cliff rescue, mud rescue, the hovercraft and lifeboat all located here in Burnham, if anyone wanted to have an accident, Burnham would be the ideal place for it!"
During the 12th AGM, the second for the group as a hovercraft rescue organisation, BARB's President, Neville Jones, said: "It has been a year of three 'Cs' - Consolidation into a real first class service after the RNLI established its station to take over a role we had covered for 10 years; Co-operation with the RNLI, the coastguard and other emergency services; and a Challenge to recruit new personnel and train them and retain them."
He added: "When the Spirit Of Lelaina was handed over to us by the editor of the Western Daily Press two years ago, there were some doubting Thomas' as to whether we could ever mount a really professional hovercraft rescue service. Well, those doubting Thomas' have certainly been proved wrong."
'Very successful' first year of operation
In his report looking back at a busy year for the group, Chairman Alan Miller added: "We've had a very successful first year, with the Spirit Of Lelaina being called out nine times since going operational last May; the first rescue coming just eight days after going into service and rescuing over 50 people."
He said 15 new crew members had been brought onboard during the year - boosting the overall headcount to 25 - many of whom have already taken on responsibilities and newly formed positions within the group.
Mr Miller also praised press and publicity manager Mark Newman for his "enthusiasm and professionalism" in gaining local, regional and even national media coverage of the hovercraft's activities.
Alan concluded: "We're very much looking forward to the challenges over the next year."
BARB's treasurer said that the organisation was in a good financial position with over 40% of income over the last year coming from donations.
Awards presented to crew members
Later in the meeting, Mr Miller was presented with the Heathcoat-Amory Endeavour Trophy by Mr Heathcoat-Amory after being chosen by crew members as the person who has contributed most significantly to the welfare of the organisation during the year.
Pete Emery was handed the 'Fanny Award', which is presented to the crew
member who has done or said the silliest thing over the last 12 months.
Pete had blown up the engine of a trial hovercraft twice in the space
of a fortnight!