Walkers Louisa Barrow and Peter Severs
It all happened on 19 August 2014. Louisa and Peter were on a camping holiday by the coast in North Yorkshire and decided to explore the pretty fishing village of Staithes. After visiting Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station, they took a walk along the pier and that was the moment things took a turn.
‘The wave hit us like a train’
They joked about the size of one wave that crashed against the pier. But just as they started to head back, another wave hit and dragged them into the water. They were terrified and they were in trouble.
‘The wave hit us like a train,’ Peter recalls. ‘And the next thing we knew, we were in the water.’
Survival, and the thought of not seeing the kids again and not seeing Peter again, kept me going. And the thought that if I gave up, he would lose his life too. So I knew that I had to fight to get to that pier. But for every pace forward, the waves just kept pulling me back.Louisa BarrowSurvivor
Peter managed to grab hold of the pier ladder. He was hurt and covered in blood.
By the time Louisa surfaced and caught her breath, she realised she couldn’t swim against the 4m swell.
‘Don’t let him go!’
A local man threw a rope to Louisa in an attempt to pull her to safety. She tied it around her wrist and he pulled her to where Peter was at the ladder.
Once Louisa was close enough, the man threw another rope down to her and one to Peter. He tied Peter’s rope to a safety rail while he hauled Louisa up the ladder.
Louisa realised Peter was in a bad way. He was in pain and he couldn’t move his leg – his thigh bone was broken. ‘I remember screaming: “Don’t let him go, don’t let him go!”’
‘It was much more serious than we first thought’
Peter was struggling to hold on to the ladder as the waves crashed against him. At times, he was completely submerged.
When RNLI Deputy Launching Authority Sean Baxter arrived on scene he took control of the situation. He quickly realised that a rescue from shore was impossible and radioed the station to launch the lifeboat.
‘It was much more serious than we first thought,’ says Sean. ‘The waves were hitting me shoulder-high. Peter was over 1m below me on the ladder, which means he must’ve been 3m underwater at times.’
Getting alongside Peter in the lifeboat in those conditions was tough. One false move and he’d be crushed. But on the third attempt, Helm Lee Jackson got the angle just right.
Crew Member Stephen Iredale pulled Peter into the lifeboat. They found a calmer spot to put him ashore and helped transfer him to the ambulance while Sean followed on foot.
‘Sean was like lightning’
Sean had been the one organising people and coordinating every step of the rescue. And though Louisa was disorientated and unwell after taking in a lot of seawater, she still remembers him as an instrumental part of saving their lives.
‘Sean was like lightning. I just remember, once I got out, seeing this bearded fellow running backwards and forwards on his radio. He was just organising everybody, and thank God he did.'
‘With the lifeboat, ambulance and Sea King helicopter, it was a good all-round team effort,’ Sean says. ‘But what that guy did on the pier saving Louisa's life and tying Peter to the safety rail was extremely brave. He deserves recognition too.’
‘I can’t put into words how grateful we both are’
A few days after the accident, Louisa spoke to Neil Green at BBC Radio Tees about what happened that day. Listen to her emotional story:
More on this survivor story
Hear more from Louisa, Peter and the lifeboat crew who rescued them in our RNLI Magazine feature: ‘Don’t let him go!’