The volunteer lifeboat crew at Bembridge had their ingenuity and rescue skills tested to the limit this week, when they assisted a man who had suffered a stroke – leaving him stranded on an old military fort.
This news follows Island Pulse article: Bembridge Lifeboat Rescue At No Mans Land Fort
Crew members from the station were tasked by Solent Coastguard in the early hours of Tuesday to launch to the aid of a man who had been taken ill on No Man’s Land fort, situated in the Solent off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Video footage of this rescue is available – to view media footage, click on this link
With no obvious method to transfer the casualty down onto the lifeboat, the coxswain had to apply creative thinking and resorted to some rather unorthodox method using ropes, a hook and a plastic stretcher.
The 60-year-old man was among several construction workers refurbishing the fort in preparation for its new life as a luxury hotel. He had suffered a stroke and was in need of medical attention, prompting coastguards to request the launch of Bembridge RNLI lifeboat. The crew were summoned from their beds by pagers at 12.52am; just 20 minutes later they were on scene and preparing to evacuate the man.
Coxswain Steve Simmonds took up the story: ‘We assumed it would just be a straightforward evacuation and had no idea how complicated it would be. The only access to the fort is up a vertical 15ft ladder, onto a gantry, up a ramp onto a boarding platform, which is traditionally used to hoist RIBs from the water. The obvious solution was to use the hoist to lower the man onto the lifeboat – but that had broken just the day before.’
In addition, Steve said that the Solent Coastguard rescue helicopter, which under normal circumstances could have airlifted the casualty, was otherwise engaged at Heathrow Airport.
‘There was no way he could have climbed down the ladder in his state – the only way he was coming off the fort was in a stretcher. We found ourselves with the challenge of coming up with a plan to get him safely from the fort onto the lifeboat. My crew are a pretty resourceful bunch though and we came up with the idea of improvising a ‘block and tackle’-style setup, using ropes we had on board the lifeboat. Even then, the strops on the stretcher were a foot too long – if we slid him off the gantry he would have experienced a 1ft drop before they pulled taught, giving him a pretty sharp jolt.’
In the end, the crew attached further ropes to hold the stretcher taught as they moved it off the boarding platform, then gradually released the ropes to gently bring him to a rest. The man was then lowered onto the deck of the lifeboat and taken to shore at Portsmouth into the waiting arms of an ambulance crew.
Mike Samuelson, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Bembridge RNLI Lifeboat Station, said: ‘Lifeboat crews are trained to adapt to various situations, but this has to rank as one of the most challenging for Bembridge in recent times. Fortunately, with a bit of creative thinking and dash of scientific knowledge, our crew came up with a way to safely and securely get the chap off the fort. Considering our volunteers had jumped out of bed and did this in the dark, at 1am in the morning, it’s fair to say I am hugely proud of them for this rescue.’
*No Man’s Land fort is one of four fortified structures built in the Solent between between 1867 and 1880 to defend the dockyard in Portsmouth from an invasion by sea. It cost £462,500 to build at the time, but is valued at around £4M today. The fort is undergoing refurbishment to turn it into a luxury hotel and leisure resort.
Island Pulse related articles:
Isle of Wight County Press Report: Fort’s latest plans float to surface. By Martin Neville – Friday, August 28, 2009.
The fort - was bought by Gibraltar-based estate agents, Swanmore Estates, for £910,000. The company wants to renew an existing planning consent for a floating breakwater harbour and helipad which expires next month.
A planning application submitted to the Isle of Wight Council was handled by agents, PLC Architects, of Queens Crescent, Southsea.
A supporting report reveals: “The proposed floating breakwater is a separate structure, and is required to provide safer access for staff and visitors at times of inclement weather or heavy swell.
“It also acts to protect the structure from the continually erosive effects of wash.”
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