britain’s bravest

Dermot Murnaghan presents more accounts of lifethreatening
emergencies and daring rescues.
Combining testimonies from those involved with
reconstructions and genuine footage, each edition
tells the stories behind Britain’s most extraordinary
acts of bravery. This week’s edition features an RAF
helicopter crew who battled against the elements
to save the lives of four yachtsmen; and a group of
volunteers who came to the aid of a young woman
trapped in a cave.
“The difference between life and death is often luck,
sometimes training and – just occasionally –
outright bravery,” says Dermot Murnaghan. “This
series celebrates everyday heroes who put their
lives on the line.” This week’s first hero is winchman
Dave Standbridge, part of an RAF search-andrescue
crew based at Leconfield in Yorkshire. Late
one afternoon, Dave and his team responded to a
mayday call from the Mollie Louise yacht, which
had run into difficulties in the North Sea.
Skipper Rob Barton, his son Dave and their
friends Dan and Adrian were crossing from Holland
to Hull when they were hit by force 10 gales. A
freak wave smashed into the side of the Mollie
Louise and swept Rob, Dave and Adrian
overboard. “Everything went quiet and very cold,
and I realised I was under the water,” recalls Rob.
He managed to make a mayday call, before
another wave destroyed his radio. Dan was still
aboard the yacht, but his inexperience as a sailor
meant that he could not turn the vessel around.
Luckily, an RAF crew had received the mayday
call – and it was not long before Dave Standbridge
and his team had found the yacht. However,
finding the stranded sailors was going to be more
difficult. “A human head in the water is a very small
object, and the ocean is a very big place,” says
Dave. When the crew finally spotted the men, they
had been in the water for over an hour and were
beginning to slip into unconsciousness.
Risking his life, Dave lowered himself into the
waves and began to save the men, one by one.
“I can’t describe the sudden change from being full
of despair to being full of hope,” says Rob.
Unfortunately, Adrian died while he was in the
water, but thanks to the bravery of Dave
Standbridge, Rob and his son lived to tell the tale.
“Any other winchman would have done exactly the
same,” says Dave. “That’s what we’re here for.”
The next story in this week’s show takes place in
Otter Hole in South Wales – a cave that presents
enthusiasts with a unique set of challenges owing
to tidal passages that flood twice a day, blocking it
off from the outside world. While guiding a film
crew through the tight passageways, caver Laura
Trowbridge slipped and fell, breaking her back and
cracking her pelvis. “Everything hurt,” she
remembers. The people with Laura went to raise
the alarm, but it took them some four hours to find
their way out of the cave.
When Gary Taylor and Peter Collings-Wells of
the local cave-rescue organisation heard about
what had happened, they knew they had only a
brief window in which to reach the injured woman
before the tide barred their way. They managed to
find Laura after two hours, but the rescue was
going to be a long and arduous process. As they
edged Laura inch by inch across thick mud,
jagged rocks and rushing water, a single slip
could have paralysed her for life.
After 20 hours underground, the team had
come within 15 metres of the entrance when they
were halted by a tight bend through which the
stretcher could not pass. In the end, Laura was to
become the hero of her own rescue story. “I
decided to unstrap myself from the stretcher and
crawl through,” she explains. “I did what I felt
needed to be done at the time.” By the time she
reached the surface, it had taken 24 hours and
over 100 volunteers to rescue Laura. “She was
incredibly brave all the way through,” says Gary.
“She knew she had a part to play.”
Elsewhere this week, there is the story of a good
citizen who saved the life of a stranger in the
Tewkesbury floods; and that of a passing motorist
who refused to give up on the horrifically injured
victim of a car crash.

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