On Sunday 22nd October 2018, just as our morning training session was coming to an end, Pett Level Independent Rescue Boat was tasked by Solent Coastguard to attend at a location in the Dover Strait. Instructions given were that a diver had failed to surface following a group dive on a local wreck.
At 11:54am, with a response time of less than 10 minutes, our John and Mary Pulfer boat was launched with an experienced three-person crew: Andy Crompton, Shaun O’Hara and Isaac Dyer.
Also part of the search were both Hastings lifeboats (their new 13-28 boat as well as their older boat) and Eastbourne lifeboat. Professional colleagues who we were with earlier in the week, the helicopter team from HM Coastguard Maritime Search and Rescue at Lydd, were also scrambled and in attendance. Other vessels in the immediate area, including local fishing boats and a private boat also assisted in the search.
The search location was 8 miles out to sea, with an approximate bearing to the Ecclesbourne Glen area of the coast. Sea conditions had been very calm and flat earlier in the morning whilst training, but from approximately noon it became breezier out in the Dover Strait, although conditions remained fair.
Once they reached the search location, the crew took part in parallel searching with other vessels. Parallel searching allows a significant area could be closely covered in the search for the missing diver, whilst the Search and Rescue helicopter team conducted an aerial search of the area.
Back at base, the onshore crew moved into comms and contingency planning, including monitoring and calculating the fuel situation for the boat involved in the search. As a precaution, the smaller Tornado boat was refuelled and additional fuel canisters filled, so the Tornado could be launched to take fuel out to the Pulfer boat. This would allow the larger boat to refuel without having to return to base.
As these type of searches often continue until dusk, additional helm and crew members were also put on standby. This way, the Tornado boat would also be able to take other crew out on the same run, for a crew change, as required.
In the event, this was not necessary as our vessel was stood down around 3 p.m. and our crew returned safely to the boathouse for a full debrief.
The overall operation was stood down at 17:30 BST, as reported by BBC Sussex:
Coastguards say the search for a missing diver in the Dover Straits was stood down at 17:30 BST on Sunday. Nothing has been found so far. There are no plans to relaunch the operation unless further information is received. pic.twitter.com/uCx8Grd0CE
— BBC Sussex (@BBCSussex) October 21, 2018