Keeping the Lancashire coast safe for four decades
A Coastguard volunteer retiring after 40 years' service has spoken of his sadness at the increase in suicidal people walking into the sea.
Barry Thornber, 70, served with Lytham Coastguard for 29 years after a previous 11 with Shoreham Coastguard, near to Brighton.
After stepping down, the grandfather-of-four said a lot has changed since he first started out, such as better equipment and awareness of the dangers the Irish Sea poses.
But he said: “There’s still a lot of people who want to walk into the sea. We seem to get called to a lot more of them than we used to.
“When people walk into the water it’s a cry for help more than anything, but sometimes it [the help] comes a little too late.
“That’s the sad thing really.”
Mr Thornber, a former resort hotelier who lives in Ludlow Grove, Bispham, said his two most memorable rescues on the Fylde coast include pulling somebody to safety from close to the Metropole Hotel, and the beaching of the Riverdance ferry, which happened at Cleveleys a decade ago.
He said: “I did say I would do 40 years and go. I could have probably got through the medical again but they would not let me go in the water or mud anymore.
“I did the walking and beach searches – the old bones are starting to ache and the knees have given up.”
Mr Thornber, who has two grown-up daughters, two grandsons and two granddaughters, said he now plans to spend more time on his 23-feet-long canal boat.
Paying tribute to him, Paul Little, station officer at Lytham Coastguard, said: “Barry is a good, steady pair of hands and somebody you can rely on to do whatever you want him to do.
“Because he has lots of experience, there is nothing that will faze him. We will miss him sorely.”
Barry and his teammates past and present ate a meal at The Gurkha restaurant in Waterloo Road, South Shore, last Tuesday, before being presented with a leaving present.
And last Saturday he was photographed in front of Blackpool Tower ahead of an official presentation due to be held at the end of this month.
His departure is the fourth at Lytham Coastguard this year, Mr Little said, with a recruitment drive planned for later this year.
A number of people died after being pulled from the sea on the Fylde coast last year.
Only a coroner can determine the circumstances in each case – including whether they were suicides or accidents. However, none were deemed suspicious by police.
Fleetwood Coastguard said it was called out to 109 incidents last year. They included 41 reports of somebody in the water, including children playing on a blow-up killer whale and people being cut off by the incoming tide.
Some 35 missing people – ‘sometimes vulnerable’ – incidents were also logged.
Mr Little said: “You get people coming to Blackpool from out of town who are coming back because they are despondent and they have fond memories. They tend to be those trying to kill themselves.“Then you get people having a domestic and they make a throwaway comment when they might not necessarily want to do that.
“We have to treat them all the same because we don’t know the difference at the time.”
Mark Sumner, station officer at Fleetwood, (left) added: “We have noticed an increase in the number of incidents we have been called to.”
He said this could be down to a hike in suicidal people entering the water, or police simply calling for the Coastguard’s assistance in more cases.
Volunteers there were called to five jobs in February but expect to see an increase from around Easter time.