Lise Vittrup was recently appointed volunteer manager of the charity’s shop at Falmouth Lifeboat Station, but her first contact with the RNLI was when her life was saved by the crew of the lifeboat crew coast of Brighton in September 1995.
The rescue resulted in the award of the RNLI a silver medal at the helm of the lifeboat and
a bronze medal to the other two crew members.
It was the first time in RNLI history that all three crew members of an Atlantic Coastal Lifeboat had been awarded medals for bravery for a single service. The Atlantic 21 inshore lifeboat
Graham Hillier and Tony Carter with coxswain Richard Pearce and crew members Martin Ebdell and Edward Purches, launched just before midnight on 7 September 1995 in response to a report of two girls being swept into the sea near Brighton Palace Pier. They had been overtaken by the surf and ended up under the jetty about 20 meters offshore.
Although there was a Force 4 to 5 onshore wind at the time of the incident, sea and wave conditions remained high due to a southwesterly gale blowing earlier in the day. The lifeboat coxswain was surprised at how rough the sea was so close to shore.
The lifeboat crew only had an approximate position of the two girls but, in very difficult conditions, they managed to locate them under the pier. Unfortunately, while maneuvering in the confined space, the lifeboat float burst after being punctured by a hidden metal spike. The bow and part of the sponson immediately deflated, leaving the lifeboat open to the seas. Despite the harsh conditions and a crew member suffering from a broken finger, severe bruising and twisting of the knee during the rescue, the two injured were brought aboard the coastal lifeboat. They were both in a state of distress and suffered from hypothermia. The tiller managed to maneuver the lifeboat clear of the jetty and into calmer waters, but was too damaged to continue service unaided. The injured and crew from the Brighton Inshore Lifeboat were transferred to the Newhaven All Weather Lifeboat and landed at Brighton Marina. The two girls and the injured lifeboat crew member were later taken to hospital.
At the time of the incident, Lise had just moved to Brighton to start a fine art photography course and had found a flat to share with her friend. They had spent the day and the evening decorating and had made an appointment with friends for a last drink order. They then headed to the seafront for chips and socializing. Lise explained what happened:
“It was a beautiful evening and quite warm in my memory, but the sea was a bit rough. I had no intention of going in the water. I grew up by the sea; I sailed and was a member of the Sea Scouts so had respect for the sea. However, I had never come across a shingle beach like Brighton before and had not realized how she could behave differently and I did not fully understand the dangers of the English Channel.
“My friend and I were standing at the water’s edge and we got knocked over by a circuit breaker. At first we thought it was funny and we laughed but then we got knocked down by another wave and this time when I tried to get up we were swept away. I just went into survival mode and instinctively knew that I didn’t want to waste my energy swimming, I knew to save our energy by floating which was possible once past the breakers even though the sea was quite wild.
“At this point, the pier was still far from us. I had my hand on my friend because she had a little more trouble than me. Eventually we got close enough to the pier to take a break. I decided there was a better chance of being found under the pier than in open water. I had my hand on my friend all the time and together we managed to climb the struts under the jetty. We were knocked down several times by the waves but we climbed again. In the end, I figured out how to put myself on the side where the waves would press us against the structure rather than push us back.
“My friend was losing strength and she just wanted to sleep. I held his wrist and just yelled at him to keep going. When I saw the lifeboat pass under the jetty, I knew we were safe.
Lise continued, “It really had an effect on my life. I didn’t go near water for years after the incident. It was scary to think about being in the water, but I moved to Cornwall and decided it was time to get back into the sea, so I went swimming and fell in love with the water again .
“I have always had a special place for the RNLI because of what happened and have always sought out the RNLI when putting money into charity boxes. I found myself having time to be able to volunteer so I looked on the RNLI website and saw that there was a vacancy for a Store Manager at Falmouth Lifeboat Station . I have a background in retail management so I knew this was something I could do.
“I want to help raise funds to help the brilliant crew who go out to save lives at sea. I owe my life to the RNLI, there is no doubt. I was lucky to be rescued that night; the skill of the lifeboat crew was amazing.
Notes to Editors
RNLI Media Contacts
For further information please contact Simon Culliford, RNLI Lifeboat Volunteer Assistant Press Officer on 07971986978 or
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The charity RNLI saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service along the coasts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The RNLI operates 238 lifeguard stations in the UK and Ireland and over 240 lifeguard units on beaches in the UK and the Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of the coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its lifesaving service. Since the RNLI’s inception in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved more than 142,700 lives.
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