Woman clings on to lifebuoy rope for half an hour to prevent husband from being swept out to sea at Southwold

PUBLISHED: 09:59 27 December 2016 | UPDATED: 09:18 28 December 2016

Rescue mission in Southwold. Picture Trevor Mayes

Rescue mission in Southwold. Picture Trevor Mayes

Trevor Mayes

A woman clung on to a rope attached to a lifebuoy for nearly half an hour in a desperate bid to stop her husband from being swept out to sea off the Suffolk coast.

Southwold Harbour.

PHOTO: Nick ButcherSouthwold Harbour. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

The man, believed to be in his forties, got into difficulty in cold, fast flowing water after he jumped into the River Blyth at Walberswick to try to save his mother-in-law’s dog, which had fallen over the edge of the harbour. Both the man and the dog – a whippet – were perilously close to death by the time they were picked up by the Southwold Lifeboat crew, which was alerted by the coastguard just after 12.10pm.

What started as a pleasant Boxing Day walk quickly turned into a nightmare for the family from Northamptonshire, who were staying with the woman’s mother in Halesworth.

According to lifeboat crew member Keith Meldrum, the situation was made worse by the high spring tide which was rushing out at the time, with “incredibly fast flowing” water.

As soon as the man entered the water, his wife could see that he was in trouble so she threw him a life ring and held on to the rope until the lifeboat arrived.

By this time, he had been in the freezing cold water for around 30 minutes and was in grave danger due to a combination of exhaustion and the cold.

Mr Meldrum said: “Southwold Harbour has a very fast flow at the best of times and today it was a flood tide so the harbour had flooded and then all of that water was rushing out at peak flow just at the time this happened.

“We are not entirely sure but we think the man was in the water, which was freezing cold, for approaching half an hour.

“His wife who was holding onto the rope of the life ring got burn marks on her hands from trying to keep hold of him while the force of the water was dragging him out to sea.”

The lifeboat crew managed to haul the man – and the dog – to safety “just in time”, Mr Meldrum said.

Due to being exposed to the cold for such a long period, his core temperature had plummeted and he had to be warmed up extremely slowly for his own safety.

“We took all his wet clothes off and wrapped him up in a thick fleece survival blanket and after 20 minutes his core body temperature was still dangerously low,” Mr Meldrum continued.

“He must have been incredibly cold and was in a life-threatening situation. He was exhausted from fighting so hard against the force of the water and was at a critical stage when we got to him.”

Once the lifeboat crew retrieved the man, he was checked over by an ambulance crew who decided his temperature was still too low so they took him to James Paget Hospital in Gorleston.

Meanwhile, Ellie the dog was wrapped in two layers of blankets for 20 minutes to help warm her up.

Mr Meldrum said: “She was in a sorry state and shivering all the time – it took a long time to warm her up but she got plenty of love and attention and after half an hour, she walked away perfectly fine.”

Mr Meldrum is calling for a warning at the harbour due to the number of dogs that have accidently fallen over the edge in recent years.

He added: “In the five years I have been on the lifeboat crew, I have been to more than 30 incidents of dogs going off there (Walberswick hythe) within 100yds of the lifeboat station. It needs a fence or some sort of warning signs.”

Renewed warning to dog owners

The incident has led to renewed pleas for dog owners to call the coastguard rather than risking their own lives to rescue their pets.

Southwold Lifeboat crew member Keith Meldrum said: “Everyone on the lifeboat crew understands the urgency and the temptation to jump in after your dog.

“But this is the second time this year we have had someone go into the harbour after their dog – and it’s the second time they have been dangerously close to death by the time we have pulled them out.

“On the other hand, we have had at least six incidents where people haven’t gone in after the dog, and in every case we have pulled the dog out safely.

“The thing to do always is to dial 999, ask for coastguard and we will rescue the dog.

“We will never consider it a waste of time because we can get the job done effectively without anyone’s life being put at risk.”

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