A couple of days before Christmas, a shrill scream for help chilled Paul Eastment and his team as they arrived to rescue a terrified woman clinging to a tree in a flooded river. ‘It was a sound that will stay with me for a long time,’ says RNLI Flood Rescue Boat Team Leader Paul. ‘It was desperate and full of emotion. I will never forget it.’
Vanessa Glover was with her 7-year-old son and husband when their vehicle became trapped in floodwater at Umberleigh in Devon on 23 December 2012. The River Taw was 3.5m above its normal range and the powerful floodwater had forced the car off the road.
Her family managed to cling to the car roof and were rescued by firefighters but, as Vanessa tried to scramble to safety, she was swept away. Having been dragged 75m through gardens full of debris, she eventually managed to catch hold of a branch. Ideally the rescue would have been by helicopter or a two-boat operation but neither was available.
Thankfully, the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team arrived at 1.45am and Paul launched their one available boat.
Volunteer Helmsman Chris Missen battled against the relentless ferocity of the water. The situation posed a significant risk with floodwater full of debris and moving at 12 knots. As heavy rain continued to fall and conditions deteriorated, Paul and Crew Member Martin Blaker-Rowe worked together to guide Chris along the safest route to the casualty.
Chris expertly manoeuvred the boat in the darkness with only the crews’ head torches and a small spotlight for help while the police helicopter used their spotlight to indicate Vanessa’s location.
Vanessa had been in the water for 50 minutes, was exhausted, extremely cold and unlikely to be able to hold onto the branch for much longer.
Chris steered the boat backwards through the torrent of water and then sideways so that Paul and Martin could reach for Mrs Glover and drag her into the boat.
After her ordeal Vanessa said: ‘You gave me the gift of life and the joy of knowing that Santa [had] called on my son at Christmas. I will hold you in my heart forever. Thank you.’
For the Umberleigh rescue, RNLI Shore Command Bernie Mannings and Driver Jason Dunlop receive the Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum, and Incident Commander Robin Goodlad receives a Framed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman of the Institution.
For the boat crew who faced dynamic risks in the harshest of conditions, Boat Team Leader Paul Eastment, Helmsman Chris Missen and Crew Member Martin Blaker-Rowe each receive the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry, the first to be awarded for flood rescue.