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Portrush RNLI man recounts 'terrifying' day he nearly died on rescue

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Anthony Chambers of Portrush RNLI

Anthony Chambers of Portrush RNLI

With the two boys he saved, Rhys Sufferin and Matthew Forsythe

With the two boys he saved, Rhys Sufferin and Matthew Forsythe

The boys are helped onboard a lifeboat

The boys are helped onboard a lifeboat

Scene of the cave rescue

Scene of the cave rescue

'Surviving the Storms' examines the life-or-death decisions the RNLI have to make when battling the forces of nature to save lives

'Surviving the Storms' examines the life-or-death decisions the RNLI have to make when battling the forces of nature to save lives

Anthony Chambers of Portrush RNLI

The story of how a retired RNLI crew member from Portrush nearly died saving the lives of two schoolboys features in a new book recalling extraordinary courage at sea.

Anthony Chambers (61) received the RNLI's medal for gallantry for the heroic callout to Castlerock on August 5, 2009, when 14-year-old pals Rhys Sufferin and Matthew Forsythe became trapped in a cave with a fast rising tide.

The lifeboat mechanic's incredible story is included in a book of 11 firsthand accounts of the most daring rescues by lifesavers across the UK and Ireland over the last 20 years.

'Surviving the Storms' examines the life-or-death decisions the RNLI have to make when battling the forces of nature to save lives.

Mr Chambers knows the risks from his own terrifying experience in 2009.

Facing treacherous conditions on that day, he had to swim to the cave from an all-weather lifeboat with lifejackets as waves crashed against the cliff wall.

Already exhausted after dragging one boy back to safety against the current, he faced a second punishing swim to help the second teenager.

An extract from the book recalled the moment he felt certain he would be swept away to his death.

"As we kicked our way towards the boat I felt the strength draining out of me, like sand out of an egg timer, it slipped away," he recalls.

"I'm going to have to let him go. The lifeboat was just ahead of us and Rhys was secured in his lifejacket. I knew (crew member) Gerard Bradley would get him within moments. The boy would be safe. But I can't keep on."

He continued: "Despite the ordeal almost being at an end, the exhaustion was too much. I prepared to let go and let the waves take me. I knew that as soon as I did, I'd be swallowed up and drown. I just didn't have it in me to fight the waves anymore.

"But just as I went to release my grip and surrender myself to the sea, Gerard came up alongside us. They'd got to us, I thought."

Joining the lifeboat crew in 1979 had always been an easy decision for Mr Chambers, with his grandfather Karl acting as a mechanic for the first lifeboat in Portrush in 1924, and his father taking over in 1947.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "It really started a lot earlier for me, helping my dad with the boat. When you grow up in that environment it really is all you want to do."

He said the life of a rescue crew was often quiet until suddenly called into action.

"The majority of the time it can be quite mediocre, but things that are life threatening and have to be dealt with can happen at any moment," he added.

Looking back on his 2009 rescue, Mr Chambers said: "I remember searching up and down the coast. When you hear about a missing person they could just be in shore, but you can't take the chance of leaving two teenagers out there."

He continued: "We heard the call from inside the cave and there had been a couple of hours of high water. I used to scuba dive so I had an idea to let myself be pushed in by the surge and grab on to the cliff walls. Two times I couldn't get a grip and was pushed back to square one but you had to persevere."

He added: "I was 50-years-old at the time and I don't think I could manage it now. The boys were just very lucky that we could actually find them."

His story in 'Surviving the Storms' is featured alongside a Cork lifeboat crew who battled force nine conditions to save a fishing crew in danger of hitting rocks in Castletownbere, and lifeguards in Cornwall who saved the lives of people moments away from drowning.

All royalties from the book will go towards raising funds for the lifesaving charity.

"People often forget it's a voluntary organisation," Mr Chambers added.

"It's a very difficult time at the moment with Covid-19 as we can't do any fundraising at all. So you have crews who still have to spend money on maintenance which is an expensive project to be running."

RNLI chief executive Mark Dowie said: "Surviving the Storms is a wonderful account of selflessness and bravery although there is no book big enough to do justice to every RNLI rescue and rescuer.

"We have hundreds of lifeboat stations and thousands of crew members and lifeguards all dedicated to saving lives.

"Between them, they've helped so many people survive the storms and I'm proud of every one of them."

Belfast Telegraph