Video: Felixstowe Coastguard Rescue Team practice mud rescue drill with exercise in Kirton Creek

Felixstowe Coastguard Team secured a log more than 45ft from washing back out to sea.

Felixstowe Coastguard Team secured a log more than 45ft from washing back out to sea. - Credit: Su Anderson

Last year they carried out 84 missions, helping those in need around the region’s waterways. Reporter Edmund Crosthwaite joined Felixstowe Coastguard Rescue Team as they staged a dramatic training exercise.

It’s the kind of place you could enjoy a bracing Sunday morning walk by the river. But the team from Felixstowe Coastguard Rescue Team aren’t looking at the views, they are scouring the River Deben for a missing rowing boat. Two groups are working in opposite directions towards each other to find the tiny craft with two people on board.

Fortunately, this time no lives are at stake - this time. The coastguard team, made up of volunteers, are conducting a training exercise in mud rescue. But for the officers involved everything has to be done as if it were real.

Carol Lukins, the officer in charge of the operation, explains the scenario as it unfolds.

“We got a call this morning that two people had been missing since their last known sighting at 3pm yesterday,” she said. “It was known they went earlier than that from Felixstowe Ferry so we had a fix on where they started. We put in a team at Waldringfield and a team at Kingsfleet.”

With the boat located in Kirton Creek and the casualties identified as a man and a child, the coastguard set about crossing the hazardous mud.

“Because there’s absolutely no water for a lifeboat to get to them, our mud rescue technicians are trying to go across the mud to find out the state of the casualties and see if they can actually do a rescue,” Ms Lukins explains. “The best outcome would be for us to get to the casualties and hope they are still conscious and can be recovered. At that point we would probably be calling in the rescue helicopter.

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“The worst outcome is that there are no signs of life. The worst, worst outcome is that our technicians get stuck.”

Training for this sort of mission is vital for the team. Officers were sent to 84 incidents last year and only seven of those were on land.

A vessel aground or a single person vessel needing assistance accounted for 26 jobs. Five were recoveries of bodies.

However the most numerous call out (a total of 15) was to help search for people who had fallen from bridges.

Don Ryles, Felixstowe Coastguard’s station officer, said regular training was carried out by the nine-person strong team.

“We all have to stay competent so we have to be reassessed every three years. In the mean time we all have to maintain our capabilities,” he explains.

“There were a few minor issues but the outcome was probably as good as it could have been. I think it went well.”

Mr Ryles also outlined his team’s area, saying: “We cover from Woodbrige down the Deben, across the Felixstowe seafront and up the Orwell to Ipswich. We’ve got the biggest container port in the UK plus the Orwell is very busy with pleasure craft.

“A lot of what we do is coordination rather than actual rescue. If there’s a yacht in distress we can’t go to the yacht, that would be the lifeboat or a helicopter. We’d coordinate it from the shore.”

Rescuers weigh up the risks before embarking on exercise

Dragging yourself across treacherous mud is one thing – doing it with hundreds of kilograms of equipment is very different.

But that is what Alasdair Nichol and Barry Twomey had to to during the mud exercise yesterday. The pair, fully kitted in protective suits, helmets and boots had to take everything they might need during the rescue with them to the casualties.

Felixstowe Coastguard station officer Don Ryles described some of the gear they used.

“The absolute key things were the black things they had on their feet called Mudders. It’s basically an overboot and as you put your weight down on the mud it opens out. It’s copied from a wading birds foot.

“They also used standard basket stretchers; one of them had a yellow flotation collar on it, so that’s also used for water rescues but the main thing is they slide easily across the mud.

“Then they had some digging tools and a compressed air lance. It breaks the suction of the mud.”

Despite the specialist equipment Mr Nichol said the trek from shore to casualties was still very challenging.

“The hardest thing for us on that one was making sure we didn’t sink, even with our Mudders on. We were constantly having to move and the sheer amount of effort to get there across a small river with all the kit was immense.”

“Once you get the momentum you keep it going,” Mr Twomey added. “Once you stand still you become a casualty yourself. “It’s quite painful on your legs and you can overheat very quickly. You have to be careful for yourselves. We always carry plenty of water.”

How the scenario unfolded

Felixstowe coastguard is alerted to a missing boat and tasked with finding it.

Two teams work to locate the boat and find it in Kirton Creek.

Officers examine the scene. They see one conscious casualty and a second person unconscious.

Two team members wade across the mud, pulling their rescue equipment.

Officers on land set up winching equipment to pull their colleagues and the casualties back.

The officers with the casualties monitor their conditions – both are alive – and then get them onto stretchers.

When they are ready to move the winch is started and are slowly pulled back to shore with the casualties.

The casualties are lifted up a bank to the land team and transferred to the care of paramedics.

The Coastguard is a 24/7 emergency service, ready to respond at any time day or night to incidents on our coastline or out at sea. If you see someone in difficulty at the coast, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.