It was dark, it was cold, it was stormy with 70knot winds and waves 20ft high when young fisherman Reegan Green was lifted off his feet and washed overboard from a Brixham trawler 25 miles off the Devon coastline.
Experienced air and sea rescue personnel who spent an hour looking for Reegan in the dark knew one thing – they had never before pulled a fishermen alive and conscious from the sea in similar conditions.
But this time things were different. Incredibly Reegan was saved and now he and his crew have been honoured with the first ever HM Coastguard ‘Life Saver Award’.
What made this rescue different was first and most importantly the fact that Reegan was wearing his lifejacket. That lifejacket kept his head and airway above water. And its tiny reflective strip was the one thing the helicopter crew spotted in the darkness as they searched in the early hours of May 10 this year.
And secondly – the crew of the ‘Emilia Jayne’ from Brixham were well drilled in safety procedures. Because of their training, after Reegan disappeared out of sight they did all the right things in the seconds that mattered.
Skipper Jay Holden and crew member Luke Selvey acted in ‘the highest traditions of the fishing brotherhood’ – and now the whole crew has been recognised with a new award given for the first time this week.
Within seconds they threw a smoke marker into the darkness so that they would know the spot where Reegan went overboard. At the same time they sent a distress alert and issued a Mayday broadcast.
Thirdly, the HM Coastguard rescue helicopter pulled off an exemplary rescue, plucking Reegan from the sea before the cold killed him.
Coastguard winchman Mark ‘Spike’ Hughes said: “It’s the type of night you don’t want to be going outside in. I saw Reegan looking at me from the water – I could see the whites of his eyes and he could see the whites of mine and that was a good moment. By then I was only a matter of feet away and within about two minutes the rescue was complete.”
Reegan said afterwards: “I thought that was me finished honestly – I spent an hour on my own in the water. It felt like a lifetime out there on my own.
“When I saw the helicopter coming it was just unbelievable – there’s no feeling like it.”
Afterwards ‘Emilia Jayne’ owner Mike Sharp put up this picture of Reegan on Facebook and said he just couldn’t stop smiling.
And this week during an emotional evening Reegan was still smiling when he and Mike were honoured at the Fishing News awards with the first ever HM Coastguard ‘Life Saver Award’.
In a ceremony held in Aberdeen they accepted the new award from HM Coastguard Winchman Mark ‘Spike’ Hughes who helped save Reegan when he was washed off the vessel in a treacherous sea.
‘Spike’ said: “Through quick thinking and bold leadership, the Skipper, Jay Holden and crew member Luke Selvey helped HM Coastguard save Reegan that night, and their actions are commended in keeping with the highest traditions of the fishing brotherhood.
“This award has been specially created to recognise a vessel crew who have clearly demonstrated they were prepared for the worst and their actions contributed to saving a life.
“In my job, I see far too often the tragic outcome of lifejackets not being worn. Even in horrendous conditions, lifejackets can keep a person afloat; keeping their airway clear of the water, so they can breathe. And there’s no better example of this than Reegan Green’s powerful story.”
During the early hours of March 10 2019, the Brixham beam trawler ‘Emilia Jayne’ BM 10 was around 25 nautical miles off Salcombe when Reegan was swept overboard by a huge wave, which lifted him up off his feet and over the side of the vessel into the sea.
Reegan, who was wearing his lifejacket, survived for over an hour in icy 20ft stormy seas, before he was rescued by the Newquay Coastguard helicopter.
His crewmates on the ‘Emilia Jayne’ did all the right things by throwing a smoke marker, sending a distress alert and issuing a Mayday broadcast.
Newquay Coastguard helicopter and Salcombe and Torbay RNLI All Weather Lifeboats were immediately tasked and it was the helicopter crew that spotted the reflective tape on Reegan Green’s lifejacket before winching him to safety. Despite being in a sea temperature of just nine degrees and very rough seas for over an hour Reagan was alive.
Speaking at the time of the rescue ‘Spike’ said: “I’ve been doing search and rescue for nearly 20 years and Reegan was the first fisherman I’ve taken out of the water who was conscious and alive, but he was also the first fisherman I took out of the water wearing a lifejacket.”
Owner of the ‘Emilia Jayne’ Mike Sharp said: “Fishermen work in some horrendous conditions – it’s unpredictable and challenging and it takes more than one person to keep a vessel safe.
“I’m very proud to have an amazing crew working on this boat – they have a good safety regime which they’re all involved in and have held regular training and drills.
“This clearly showed the day that Reegan went overboard. I’m very proud of all them and would like to thank HM Coastguard for honouring them in this way.”
HM Coastguard Controller Dai Jones who works at the National Maritime Operations Centre in Fareham was also at the awards ceremony. He was in charge of executing the search and rescue mission on that cold and stormy March day.
He said: “There was lots of cheering when Reegan was taken out of the water. We could not have hoped for a better outcome. The fact that Reegan was wearing a lifejacket clearly saved his life that day.
“We have state-of-the-art helicopters and incredible coastguard rescue teams and lifeboat crews at our disposal which can do amazing things, but they can only find people who are still on the surface. If you ask anyone who was involved in Reegan’s rescue, they all say the same thing – Reegan rescued himself that day because he chose to put on his lifejacket before going on deck. And his crew also helped save him by doing exactly what they’d trained to do in their emergency drills. The vessel owner, Mike Sharp and the skipper Jay Holden should be so very proud of their actions by making sure everyone onboard knows that they should wear a lifejacket on deck.”