Update: ‘It felt like we were in the middle of an ocean’ - friends who were minutes from death speak of dramatic rescue after being stranded off the coast of Wells in thick fog
13:45 02 May 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2014
Two friends were minutes from death when rescued chest deep in water after becoming disorientated in thick fog off the coast of Wells.
Rigo De Abreu, 23, said he feared he would die when trying to remain calm and reassure his friend Paige Thompson, 20, that everything would be okay while she stood on her tip toes as the water rapidly rose around them.
Wells lifeboat coxswain Allen Frary said yesterday’s rescue was the “closest call” he has seen for two years and warned others to keep safe ahead of the bank holiday weekend.
Mr De Abreu and Miss Thompson, who both live in Scarning, near Dereham, were enjoying an afternoon walk on Wells beach when they became lost.
The friends, who have known each other for five months, became stranded on the west side of the harbour channel, about half a mile north of the Wells beach huts, when the tide started to turn and the water rapidly started coming in from behind them.
They tried to get back to safety but were soon up to their knees in water.
Their situation was made more difficult by sea fog and the waves throwing them around.
Mr De Abreu, who is originally from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, called 999.
The coastguard immediately alerted the Wells lifeboat and the inshore craft launched at 4.49pm.
Mr De Abreu, a restaurant owner, said: “We couldn’t see anything - it was as if we were in the middle of the ocean.
“The lady on the end of the phone was asking me to look for a landmark so they could find us, but it was impossible.
“She was trying to ask me about my job to keep calm but the water was rising quickly and I was just thinking ‘where the hell are they?’
“Paige was on her tip toes and was welling up so I kept telling her everything was going to be okay but, inside, I was thinking we might die out here.”
Mr De Abreu was able to use his iPhone to give co-ordinates and help the lifeboat crew find them.
But midway through his 999 call his mobile phone battery died.
Mr De Abreu said: “I had to use Page’s phone and fortunately was put straight through to the same lady. I was amazed we both had a phone signal out there.”
With visibility at just 50m the lifeboatmen had to turn off their engine and shout out to be able to locate the pair.
They were picked up by the inshore lifeboat and ferried back to safety ashore at 5.04pm.
Apart from being wet and cold they were no worse for their ordeal.
They were given RNLI boiler suits to keep warm and, when on dry land, the first thing they did was buy chips from French’s fish and chip shop, in Wells, and telephone friends to explain their story.
Mr De Abreu said: “I had to ask if they would accept wet money, fortunately they did.”
He added: “The lifeboat guys did an incredible job, I can’t thank them enough.
“I’d also like to meet up with the lady on the other end of the phone.
“She did an amazing job of trying to keep us calm out there.”
Miss Thompson, a student at Easton College, Norwich, where she is studying a sports coaching degree, said: “You see these things on TV but never think it will happen to you.
“It was crazy, because when we started walking on the beach we talked about what had happened to the cockle pickers and saying imagine if something like that happened to us.”
She added: “The lifeboat crew were amazing, I’m going to make sure I donate to the RNLI now.”
Mr Frary said: “That’s the closest call I’ve seen for about two years.
“The water rose from knee height to chest height within a couple of minutes and with the thick fog it was very difficult out there.
“If it had been a few minutes longer it would have been a very different outcome, without a shadow of a doubt.”
With the bank holiday weekend coming up, Mr Frary urged people to take care around the coast.
He said: “It’s the nature of Wells that these things can happen very easily.
“We had two call outs to people stranded just last week.
“It is really important for people to check tide times and take care out there.”