Search

Lifeguard hero from Highgate saves man drowning in the River Thames

08:00 10 April 2014

The crew from the Tower Lifeboat Pier rescue the man from the Thames. Picture: RNLI

The crew from the Tower Lifeboat Pier rescue the man from the Thames. Picture: RNLI

Archant

A volunteer lifeboat crew member from Highgate saved a man clinging to a barge by his fingertips from drowning in the Thames in a dramatic night-time rescue.

Stephen Wheatley helped save the man clinging for his life in the Thames. Picture: Jonathan GoldbergStephen Wheatley helped save the man clinging for his life in the Thames. Picture: Jonathan Goldberg

Stephen Wheatley was part of a crew of three volunteers from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) who raced to rescue the man near the decommissioned Royal Navy war ship HMS Belfast, close to London Bridge, last week.

The 58-year-old said the unidentified man was lucky to survive.

“If he had let go, he would have gone under the barge and then it’s a lottery,” said Mr Wheatley, a managing director of a technology company, who lives in Avenue Road. “I don’t know if he would have come up again.”

Mr Wheatley and his two colleagues, based at Tower Lifeboat Station near Waterloo Bridge, were discussing what to have for dinner when they were alerted to an emergency just after 8pm last Wednesday.

They pulled on their lifeguard suits and were in a lifeboat in just under a minute.

The London Coastguard informed them by radio where to find the man, who was desperately clinging onto a driftwood collecting barge – a boat that filters rubbish and debris floating on the Thames.

The lifeboat powered along the river until the crew spotted the man and Mr Wheatley and his colleague Stuart Morrison pulled him into the lifeboat to safety.

Helmsman Chris Walker then sped to St Katharine’s Docks, where an ambulance was waiting.

Mr Wheatley, who has served as a volunteer lifeboat crew member since 2005, working 12-hour shifts after a full day’s work at least twice a month, said: “It’s a remarkable feeling.

“I know that if the RNLI said to me now that I couldn’t do this any longer, I would think about the time I spent in the lifeboat and feel it was worth it.

“It’s a real privilege. The RNLI is a spectacular organisation and we are very fortunate as a nation to have this kind of service provided by a charity.

“Apart from my wife and family, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Mr Wheatley said the rescued man was very cold and confused but able to speak and walk.

The London Ambulance Service was unable to confirm the man’s identity but Mr Wheatley believed him to be a 22-year-old Italian.

It is not known how he entered the water.

The Tower Lifeboat Station is the UK’s busiest, last year rescuing 128 people and saving 19 lives.

The RNLI needs volunteers to collect donations at Waterloo Station on April 29 during London Lifeboat Week, which runs from April 28 to May 4.

n To sign up, visit: http://bit.ly/1mUzjdd

0 comments

Latest News Stories

9 minutes ago
Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for community safety, with some of the seized goods

Fake designer handbags and watches normally worth hundreds of thousands of pounds are among hundreds of items seized in a Christmas crackdown on sales of counterfeit goods in Camden and Barnet.

Health campaigners on the steps of Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Councillors have vowed to investigate a new contract delivering GP care across north London as they were warned it could replace the family doctor of more than a million residents with “anonymous private companies”.

12:26
London's Air Ambulance landed in the green space just after 12pm. Picture: Flick Rea

An elderly man was taken to hospital yesterday after falling over while running for a bus.

26 minutes ago
Denton Estate resident Eileen Bromwich, 77, and pupils Louise Warman, 13, Kayshen Azevedo, 13, and Adam O'Leary, 13. Picture: Polly Hancock

Teenagers delivered hampers full of food to elderly residents in a gesture of festive generosity to make sure they do not miss out on Christmas treats.

Most read news

There’s an “eerie” feeling in Glasgow city centre right now.

Crisis averted! But not until after an animal rescue officer was called in to investigate.

Now experts have been called in to help it get back to water.

From the Earth’s elliptical orbit to the scheduling of Christmas, the winter solstice is as scientifically complex as it is culturally significant.

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Hampstead & Highgate Express e-edition today E-edition