Phone call saved trio on sinking boat

A BRIDGE operator has been praised for his crucial role in a dramatic rescue in which three people were plucked to safety as their boat sank in the North Sea.

A BRIDGE operator has been praised for his crucial role in a dramatic rescue in which three people were plucked to safety as their boat sank in the North Sea.

Two men and a teenage boy were saved when their Lowestoft-based boat The Viking, disappeared beneath the waves 12 miles off the Norfolk village of Happisburgh as the Caister independent lifeboat arrived on scene.

After hauling the three from the water, the crew tried in vain to save a dog trapped inside the 36ft clinker-built wooden craft.

It later emerged that a crucial mobile phone call from the boat was picked up by the bridge operator at Lowestoft harbour, allowing coastguards to co-ordinate the rescue on Monday morning.

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Gary Horton, assistant harbourmaster at Lowestoft, praised the excellent work done by the duty bridge operator, saying his actions may have saved three people's lives.

As The Viking had lost all power, he said, the boat's only way of contacting anyone was by mobile phone.

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'We received a call at around 8.10am but the line was very poor, and it was only because the bridge operator persevered and managed to get details of The Viking's location that he was then able to relay that to the coastguard who co-ordinated the rescue,' said Mr Horton. 'It was very good work.'

The four-member crew on board the Bernard Matthews II was led by coxswain Paul Williams, who described the incident as being 'like something out of the film, Titanic'.

Caister independent lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod was also on board and said: 'They are certainly lucky to be alive. If we had been another two minutes getting there, there would have been three dead people in the water.'

He added: 'The coxswain has been on the boat 34 years and he said he has never seen a rescue like it.'

It is believed the owner of the Lowestoft-based boat and his stepson - who have not been named - were escorting a diver on a trip to explore a wreck off Happisburgh.

The vessel lost all power and radio communications and began to take on water during rough weather on Sunday night.

As the risk of sinking grew in the three-metre swell, the Viking crew managed to contact Lowestoft harbour by mobile phone and Great Yarmouth coastguards mobilised the Caister lifeboat and the RNLI boat from Happisburgh at about 8.20am.

The superior speed of the jet-propelled, Dutch-built boat from Caister enabled it to get on scene first.

Caister crew member Jason Delf said: 'If we had been 30 seconds later we would not have seen the boat go down and would not have been able to locate the people in the water.'

They found the father and stepson clinging to each other in the water - the father did not have time to put on a lifejacket before the former fishing boat went down.

The three were taken back to Gorleston lifeboat station, where paramedics checked them over, before an ambulance took them to the James Paget University Hospital to be treated for cold and shock.

Praising the Caister crew, coastguard watch manager Christine Martyn said: 'With a swell like that, finding the people in the water would have been like looking for a ball in a very lumpy mattress.'

She said the combined effect of the sea temperature and the shock of going into the water would have quickly had life-threatening consequences if they had not been rescued so swiftly.

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