An angler from Ruan Minor who died off Coverack after falling overboard could be alive today if it wasn’t for the delays of Falmouth Coastguard, his friends have claimed.
Steve Holyer, friend and fishing partner of the late Chris Newton from Ruan Minor, pictured, believes the coastguards took too long to scramble a search and rescue helicopter, claiming it could have arrived almost an hour earlier – and that hour might have made all the difference.
However, Sir Alan Massey, the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, has said it was “not usual practice” to send a helicopter for an overdue vessel and that the coastguards “tasked the correct resources at the correct time.”
James Instance, manager at Falmouth Coastguard, said he was unable to respond to the claims until after the conclusion of two ongoing independent investigations; one by the police on behalf of the coroner, and a second by the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch.
This week Mr Holyer criticised the actions of the coastguards in Falmouth, who responded to the initial 999 call reporting Mr Newton was three hours overdue returning from sea.
He had taken his new boat out on December 4 last year, but failed to return when expected and was subsequently pulled from the sea approximately half a mile off Lankidden near Coverack. He was flown to the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske in Truro but doctors were unable to save him.
Claiming the coastguards “did not treat it with the urgency they could have done,” Mr Holyer told the Packet: “He was still alive when he was pulled out of the water. He was found exactly where the family caller said he would be. The helicopter is only six minutes away from where he was found.
“He would have been at Treliske a good hour before he was. An hour in the water...you could speculate that he could have survived.”
Mr Holyer claims the alarm was raised just before 7pm, but the 771 helicopter from RNAS Culdrose was not sent immediately, at the same time as the lifeboat.
By the time it was scrambled and subsequently found Mr Newton, Mr Holyer claims it did not leave the scene until 8.19pm. However, Mr Holyer alleged this was not an isolated incident and that there had been failings for 30 years.
“I think it’s Falmouth Coastguard. They are the ones I have issues with. They have a tick list. They don’t use their common sense in different scenarios.
“It’s one thing a trawler being three hours overdue, but a man by himself, on a cold night? He’s reported three hours overdue in a 999 call and they don’t give it the urgency it needs. He was diabetic as well.
“As soon as I heard he was three hours overdue I knew something had gone badly wrong.”
He added that it was if they needed “someone in uniform to confirm it before they will task a helicopter.”
A spokesperson from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said this week: “Any death at sea is a tragedy and has a profound impact on the family, friends and all those involved in the search and rescue operation. Our thoughts are with those affected at this difficult time.
“We have looked at the search and rescue response to this incident and are satisfied that the correct resources were tasked at the correct time. Requesting a helicopter was considered, but it is not usual practice to do so for an overdue vessel.
“As soon as it was established we were dealing with someone in the water and we had a location, the helicopter was sent.”