They spent nine hours submerged, lost at sea - but your donations brought them home

"No-one expects it to happen to them."

On a flat, calm summer's afternoon in early January, experienced fishermen Steve, Terry and Colin set out for a day’s fishing on the Firth of Thames. They were well-prepared with life jackets and mobile phones, and had checked the forecast before setting off.

Around 4pm, the conditions on the Firth changed suddenly. The sea was getting choppy and their 16-foot boat was being thrown around by the increasing swell.

The men lowered their burley pot into the water but, with the boat moving about in the rough conditions, the line became tangled around the boat’s propeller, and the engine stopped dead.

Skipper Steve leaned over towards the boat’s motor to untangle the line. But he didn’t have time to get the motor running again. The vessel was capsized by a huge wave that came from nowehere – and Steve, Terry and Colin were flipped into the cold, churning sea.

Soaked, submerged and clinging by their fingers to the slippery aluminium hull, the three men were in complete shock. They struggled for breath as they watched their gear, which had been tipped out along with them, being dragged away by the strong current. Their mobile phones were lost and with them, any chance of calling for help. Instinctively, they kicked into survival mode.

Steve grabbed some rope he found floating next to him and told Terry and Colin they’d all be best to tie themselves to the boat and stay together. He thought to himself: if the worst comes to the worst, at least they’ll find all three bodies with the boat. Terry and Colin climbed on top of the boat as their life jackets acted as a shield against the increasing wind chill, and they huddled together for warmth. Steve’s life jacket was lost with the boat but he felt warmer in the water than out.

Terry said: “We all feared the worst. We can’t explain the feelings of utter frustration knowing that although we were in a lot of trouble, we had no way of letting our families know that we were still alive. The thought of them, not knowing if we were alive or dead was unbearable."

"We were utterly helpless.”

Back on shore the wives, expecting them home for dinner, became increasingly anxious. Worry turned to panic and they called for help. They didn't know it, but by this time the men had been in the water for hours.

It was dark, cold and lonely out on the water as they battled for survival and waited, hoping someone had raised the alarm.

“We were in total darkness and so, so cold. We were engulfed in our thoughts, envisioning what our fate might be. We were terrified. Nine hours had passed, and you cannot imagine the relief we felt when we heard a helicopter approaching,” said Terry.

The chopper found the men, but the conditions were awful. It wouldn’t have been safe to winch the men out of the sea.

So the chopper pilot radioed for Coastguard to rescue the men, and Allan Benson and the crew of Thames Rescue One raced into the water, after midnight. They arrived just in time.

“I remember one of the guys was in worse shape than the other two. I’ve never seen such relief on the faces of anyone in my life as I did when we arrived,” recalled Allan, the Coastguard skipper.

The crew pulled all three men on board. They were in shock, freezing cold, and close to hypothermia. Volunteers gave them first aid and turned the rescue vessel towards shore.

Two months later the three men were reunited with their Coastguard rescuers, and with them pieced together the fateful events of that night. It was a powerful reminder of how precious life is and how it can change in an instant.

"No one ever expects it to happen to them. We are lucky to be alive and we have been eternally thankful every single day since the accident,” said Terry.

“We can’t find the words to describe the gratitude and thanks we feel for our rescuers and our wives who raised the alarm. We would not have been here if it wasn’t for them.”

The fact is that Coastguard wouldn’t be here with you. Thank you for the amazing support you give to our brave volunteers.


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