News story

Off-duty RAF survival specialist saves boys from sea tragedy

FS Lane, who is 50 years old and trained as an RAF physical training instructor, was visiting the beach with his family when he noticed a family…

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FS Lane, who is 50 years old and trained as an RAF physical training instructor, was visiting the beach with his family when he noticed a family of five as they were unpacking a brand-new inflatable canoe.

FS Lane recalled saying to his family that ‘an inflatable on any beach was a recipe for disaster, but especially at Poldhu because of the strong undertow’.

After some time, FS Lane, dressed in normal civilian clothes, noticed the canoe some distance out to sea, but there was no sign of the two young boys who had taken it out; he later found out that they were brothers aged 11 and 13 from Basingstoke.

Sensing the situation could be life-threatening, FS Lane shouted to his brother-in-law that he was swimming out to investigate.

FS Lane undressed to his underpants and swam out to sea. As he got closer, he realised that his fears were founded - both boys could be seen clinging desperately to the upturned canoe, but were incapable of swimming back to shore.

As he approached, the canoe was hit by a large wave. The younger boy lost his hold and started to drift away from the canoe. FS Lane told the older boy to hold on tight and swam to rescue his brother who could not get back to the inflatable without help as the rip tide was particularly strong.

Meanwhile, FS Lane’s brother-in-law had found a local surfer who was able to paddle out to provide assistance. He arrived just as FS Lane recovered the younger boy, and helped FS Lane get both boys back into the canoe, which they had finally managed to recover to an upright position.

After calming the boys, who were understandably very frightened, FS Lane realised they were clueless as to what to do, so he instructed them in how to paddle back while he stabilised the canoe using himself as both rudder and engine.

All this time the boys’ father had been watching, helpless, from the beach. He said:

I was desperate to help but I am not a strong enough swimmer.

Wing Commander Graham House, the Station Commander at RAF St Mawgan, said:

We see examples of heroism daily from our Armed Forces in Afghanistan but Flight Sergeant Mark Lane has shown that the culture and can-do attitude in the RAF is a part of our ethos - it is to Mark’s credit that he had to be persuaded by his peers to even report this rescue.

FS Lane said:

This was a classic example of a family who were completely unaware of the potential dangers of inflatables on such beaches - both boys could easily have died that day.

I am so pleased to have been there to help. It’s a great feeling to have saved lives and to have made use of some of my survival skills. I only hope that everyone reading this article learns from the mistakes made by these boys. They were lucky!

The rescued boys, though very emotional and still in shock, thanked FS Lane for ‘risking his own life to save theirs’.

FS Lane is a maritime survival specialist who is responsible for teaching some of the 5,000 Armed Forces personnel from across the three Services who conduct survival training in all aspects of hostile environments. He deals with sea survival, but others at the school teach desert, jungle and temperate survival, including escape and evasion techniques when people find themselves in hostile territory.

Flight Lieutenant Jeff Spencer, station spokesman, said:

RAF St Mawgan is also host to tens of thousands of Service personnel and cadets each year, many of them on operational and adventurous training, and, as we approach the peak summer season, his heroism will serve as a timely reminder that care must be taken in our beautiful Cornish surroundings.

Published 18 May 2012