A pair of men who owe their lives to Arbroath lifeboat volunteers have spoken in support of the “hero” whose RNLI career is in tatters after he was dismissed in disgrace from the service.
In brutal North Sea conditions in November 2012, pals Ben Thomson and Gavin Smith feared they were going to die after hitting trouble off the Fife coast when their jet skis stalled and they were cast into the icy water.
Hypothermic after hours in five-metre swells, they were eventually plucked to safety by the Angus town’s all-weather lifeboat- part of a major search response involving a helicopter and Broughty Ferry RNLI volunteers.
The Dundee duo paid tribute to their rescuers in the immediate aftermath of the drama, but the incident had such a profound effect on the pair that both went on to become volunteers with the Ferry lifeboat.
Mr Thomson continues to serve with the Broughty crew, which — in an ironic twist — is now providing all-weather cover for the Arbroath station after its Mersey-class boat was grounded as part of a top-level inquiry which has already led to two dismissals, a resignation and exposed a deep and bitter divide in the Angus crew.
Long-serving Arbroath coxswain Tommy Yule has been permanently stood down as a result of the continuing investigation into an incident involving a visiting Dutch lifeboat crew in October in which a drunken prank called a three-man lift took place.
Mr Yule has admitted he was present, but had no part in the incident, and believes he has been made a “scapegoat”.
But RNLI chiefs have said their volunteer code of conduct makes it clear the service “relies on strong leadership” and expects senior figures to set an example in their behaviour at all times.
Mr Thomson, 37, said he was “devastated” to learn of the Arbroath crisis and the action taken against the man he says he and his friend owe their lives to.
“I am devastated for the whole crew because I consider them all as friends, but I am honestly gutted for Tommy Yule because if it wasn’t for him, we would have been washed up on the beach at Crail the next day, just as our jet ski was,” he said.
“He knows these waters like the back of his hand, and he worked out where we could be. If it hadn’t been for that my children would be without a dad and my wife without a husband today.
“What happened in 2012 changed my life, I’m already a lifeboat volunteer and in January I start training to be join an emergency serive because what we went through inspired me.”
The Angus drama was also captured in a national RNLI video which has now been viewed almost 200,000 times.
When Ben's jet ski broke down, he and his friend were left drifting in icy waters for four hours – he almost gave up.It was the volunteers of Arbroath RNLI who pulled him from the water that day and saved his life.Through vital communication with you we can give our volunteer crews and lifeguards everything they need to save the lives of people like Ben.Please give us your permission to keep in touch – tick the box now: http://rnli.info/bJCZY
Posted by RNLI on Wednesday, 31 August 2016
“To me it’s disgusting that he has been cast aside like he has, and without him there are going to be lives lost — I can vouch for that,” said Mr Thomson.
“What took place was a prank, and for it to blow up this way is devastating.
“It’s terrible there’s a divide, but I am gutted for the man I would say I have to thank for being here today.”
Gavin added: “Tommy Yule made the call over where the Arbroath boat would head for, and without that knowledge and expertise we wouldn’t have been here.”