Lifeboat coxswain describes harrowing effort to save Winterton swimmer

Guy Gibson coxswain of Caister Lifeboat

Caister Lifeboat Coxswain Guy Gibson has shared his account of Sunday's tragedy at Winterton. - Credit: Caister Lifeboat

A lifeboat coxswain has shared his harrowing account of how paramedics tried for more than an hour to revive a woman who died after getting into difficulty in the sea.

Caister Lifeboat was one of several crews desperately searching for a swimmer missing off Winterton.

It is believed the woman, who was in her 60s, entered the water north of the fisherman's huts, close to the RSPB Little Tern reserve.

The beach at Winterton Norfolk

Winterton beach the day after a woman drowned after entering the water for a swim. - Credit: Liz Coates

The tragedy happened on a day which saw multiple emergencies along the coast on the first weekend of the school summer holidays.

Caister Lifeboat Coxswain Guy Gibson said boats had been searching for more than an hour when the woman's position was pinpointed from above by a helicopter, which then dropped down a smoke flare so the crew could see where she was.

Once on board a Coastguard paramedic was winched down from the helicopter, and another - Rod Wells - was transferred from the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston boat, he said.

The alarm had been raised by the woman's partner. She  had been in the water for about an hour and a half before she was recovered a few hundred yards from the shore towards Hemsby.

Mr Gibson said paramedics tried for at least an hour to revive the casualty while on the boat, but despite their sustained and determined efforts were unable to save her.

"The paramedics were brilliant," he said. "They never gave up.

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"It was such a tragic end to a busy day. We had some younger crew members on board as well and that will be etched in their minds. We had a good debrief and a little drink and a chat. It always helps."

The tragedy came after of series of "shouts" with happier outcomes.

Mr Gibson said they were first paged at 11.30am to two girls, one as young as 13, who had drifted out to sea in an inflatable boat, one clinging on the side in choppy seas whipped up by strong winds.

He said they were in trouble but were brought safely back to shore.

The crew was also involved in a search for a man missing from an inflatable in Great Yarmouth, but was stood down.

With many of the incidents at the weekend involving inflatables he called for more safety warnings, and preferably a ban.

"They are fine for swimming pools but not in the sea," he said.

"If you are blown offshore stay in the inflatable. Do not try to swim to shore, and parents - do not swim out," he said.

"You will get rescued."

He was unable to say how the woman came to be in trouble.

James Bensly highlights coastal erosion issue in Hemsby

Borough and county councillor James Bensly says legislation around coastal erosion needs updating to give coastal communities more "tools" to work with. - Credit: Liz Coates

Meanwhile, James Bensly whose borough and county council ward includes Winterton, offered his condolences to the woman's family and friends.

He said Sunday's shocking incident was a reminder of the how deadly the sea could be, and how lives could be lost and changed forever in an instant.

He is calling for new signs warning people to be on their guard, especially in gusty conditions, and has already pledged to use his ward budget.

People using inflatables should only do so on life-guarded beaches, he said, and make sure they were anchored to a solid object on the beach or held by a rope.

In March the village's Coastwatch tower was dismantled due to erosion.

Mr Bensly said it was impossible to say if it would have made a difference, but he speculated as to whether the woman might have been spotted in the water sooner had the station still been up and running.

On the plus side, a new location had now been found for the unit close to the fishermans' huts in Winterton and a planning application was soon being submitted.

At the time when it was pulled down the unit's manager Roger Rolph said its absence made  the stretch more dangerous for those out to sea and exploring the wildlife-rich dunes on land.

Daniel Hurd of Hemsby lifeboat shares his erosion concerns.

Hemsby lifeboat coxswain Dan Hurd has shared his frustration at the length of time it is taking to get sea defences for Hemsby, a holiday village that relies on its beach. - Credit: Liz Coates

Hemsby Coxswain Dan Hurd also spoke of his sadness.

He said it was difficult for everyone when the worst happened on Norfolk's beaches. The Hemsby crew was the first tasked, he said, work to create a ramp hampering its launch.

Norfolk Police confirmed a woman had died.

A statement said: "The woman’s death is currently being treated as unexplained.

"Enquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances surrounding her death."