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April 25, 2005
Major mud rescue in Weston led by Burnham-On-Sea hovercraft

Rescuers scramble out of the hovercraft following today's incident

Burnham-On-Sea's hovercraft was at the centre of a major mud rescue operation in Weston-super-Mare during the early hours of Monday April 25.

The casualty is taken on stretcher to a waiting ambulanceSwansea Coastguard asked for the assistance of the Burnham hovercraft at 02:24 hours to spearhead the rescue of a male who had attempted suicide in mud 500 metres off the end of Weston-super-Mare Pier.

Two helicopters and more than 40 rescue personnel were involved in the incident, which involved Coastguard teams from Burnham and Weston, the Burnham hovercraft, Weston RNLI, Avon and Somerset Ambulance and Avon and Somerset Police.

Burnham's Spirit Of Lelaina hovercraft launched from Weston beach at 02:55 hours and took Coastguard and paramedics to the scene.

The craft was guided to the casualty by the Police's Quebec 99 helicopter using searchlights and an onboard infra-red camera.

An RAF helicopter lights up the incident sceneOnce on scene, the Coastguard Mud Rescue Team and paramedics waded through knee-deep mud to move the casualty - who was suffering from multiple injuries and suspected hypothermia - onto a stretcher.

The stretcher was taken onboard the waiting hovercraft then back to the shoreline, where the Coastguard rushed the casualty to an ambulance. The casualty was taken to Weston General Hospital, leaving the Pier area at approximately 03:15.

The Burnham hovercraft went back to the scene two further times - aided by the RAF's Rescue Helicopter 169 from Chivenor - to bring paramedics, police and Coastguard teams safely back to shore.

Coastguard Duty Watch Manager Eric Birkett said: "The hovercraft was essential in this operation due to the distance that the casualty was from shore. If the Mud Rescue Team need to go out into the mud more than half a mile we always call on either the hovercraft or helicopter."

Emergency staff watch as the Burnham hovercraft returns"Due to the call-out time and flying time involved tonight, it was far quicker to get the hovercraft on scene. The hovercraft went out three times during this incident - the first time it has been used outside of Burnham - and it was very successful."

Ron Phipps, the Coastguard's Severn Sector Manager, who was at the scene, added: "The hovercraft team did an excellent job, working closely with the Coastguard. We have all trained hard for these incidents and it's clearly paying off now during real incidents."

Hovercraft pilot Simon Triggol, who steered the hovercraft across the mud in today's incident, praised the involvement of the helicopter teams, saying: "Without them we might have struggled to find the casualty. Once they lit up the incident scene, we were able to fly straight to the area, within a short distance of the casualty, to allow the coastguard and paramedics to reach him." He added: "This was a very successful rescue operation."

Burnham hovercraft chairman Alan Miller said: "It's unusual for us to be asked to provide assistance out of area, but on this particular occasion it was critical to get the casualty back to shore as soon as possible."

He added: "Given that we were called out at 02:24 and launched in Weston at 02:55, I'm incredibly impressed with how the hovercraft team has reacted. To respond so quickly in the middle of the night and to have the hovercraft in operation in Weston is incredible. I couldn't have asked for any more from my team."

Burnham-On-Sea's hovercraft is run by BARB, a charity, and is manned by a team of 25 volunteers. The craft has helped and rescued more than 50 people along the Somerset coastline during the last 12 months.


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