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  • Writer's pictureDan Heley

Behind The Name: Meet Jeff Gunton

Updated: Jan 16

I joined the coastguard just over 9 yrs ago. Initially I was sceptical, but my friend thought it would be something I could get my teeth into and I decided it would be better than sitting at home moping around thinking about how I could have done things differently. It was an opportunity to do something positive with my life so I decided to give it a go

I'll never forget the most dangerous situation I've ever encountered as long as I live. It was in May this year when I got a text from our ops room at Milford Haven station saying that there was a call to go to of 2 people stuck in the mud on Weston seafront; an all too common occurrence, especially in the summer months.

To this day I have no explanation why I misread that message, but instead of meeting the team where we were meant to at Knightstone Harbour I ended up at a vantage point overlooking Birnbeck Island. From there and totally by accident I could see two people on the island, so I called it in to the rest of the team and told them I would keep an eye on them whilst they dealt with the original two the shout had been about.

As most local people know, there is a shingle path that leads from the mainland to Birnbeck Island, but what a lot of people, especially visitors don't know, is the speed at which the tide not only comes in at, but the strength of the current that occurs in that stretch of water.

Whilst I was watching them, the couple, a man and woman, began to start crossing to the mainland using the shingle path. In a matter of seconds they went from being 6-8 inches deep in water to being completely swept off their feet by the strength of the current that hit them. It was at that point my body filled with a feeling of both horror and helplessness at the situation that was unfolding before me.

The tide quickly began to pull them out towards Clevedon but there was nothing I could do. If I entered the water to try and assist them then it would have just meant another casualty for the rescue team to deal with. There wasn't even a lifebuoy I could throw to them. I contacted the lifeboat that was working with the coastguard on the original rescue and told them I had 2 people drowning in front of my eyes and that they needed to get a move on.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, from my vantage point I saw another head bobbing in the water, a member of the public who from the beach, had seen the trouble the couple were in, jumped it to help, only to then find themselves in danger.

There was now 3 people on the verge of drowning, as I stood there with a mix of adrenaline, fear and helplessness rushing through my body like a bolt of lightning. To my relief the lifeboat was only seconds away by this point and arrived on scene to scoop up the 3 people out of the water and take them to the 5 waiting ambulances. I later found out that the woman of the couple had said her goodbyes to her partner and told him she loved him, as she clung to him desperately, in the full knowledge her grasp could slip at any second.

I don't know why I ended up at the place I was, at that time, when I was meant to be on a totally different place on the beach. Maybe it was because that couple didn't deserve to die. Maybe it wasn't their time. I believe in karma and so maybe that came to me to do something, to be their saviour.

The coastguard team is like a family. When we get back to base we have good banter with each other and mickey taking, especially after a difficult job, it's a way of releasing the stress after an adrenaline filled shout.

I get a massive buzz from the work I do. The fact that you never know when you're going to get an alert to respond to a call is a massive part of that, it could be 2am or 2pm, you never know. But I'm nobody special, I'm just a run of the mill bloke who lives in Weston.


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