HEROIC Hartlepool lifesavers say they were “humbled” on receiving their Pride of Britain award and “stunned” at being applauded by a room full of celebrities.
Millions of people across the country watched on television last night as the brave volunteers from Hartlepool’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and HM Coastguard collected their accolade for a rescue mission on the town’s Seaton Carew beach.
They were handed their award by the cast of hit drama Downton Abbey, who were introduced by television presenters Aled Jones and Kate Garraway.
And after they received the accolade, the man they rescued, Neil Robson, 17, from Peterlee, walked onto the stage and personally thanked the lifesavers for saving his life, saying it meant he was able to get married last week and would be around to see the birth of his baby boy in six days time.
The iconic picture of the dramatic rescue, snapped by the Mail’s chief photographer Tom Collins and which helped earn him the North East Photographer of the Year award, was also beamed out to viewers.
The accolade follows a Hartlepool Mail Pride of Hartlepool Emergency Services Award they received earlier this year.
Last night the crew returned from London and made their way to the Lifeboat Station with family and friends and watched themselves on TV.
One of the team, Rob Archer, 34, said the star-studded bash at Grosvenor House, on London’s Park Lane, hosted by Carol Vorderman, was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” and said he was “petrified” waiting to watch himself on television.
The dad-of-two from the Headland said: “To go to the awards show and be appreciated and get a standing ovation from so many stars is absolutely unreal.
“We were treated like royalty and enjoyed the after show party which I didn’t leave until 4am, and then we had to be on Daybreak at 5am!
“Seriously though, it’s a massive achievement for the town and I feel really proud and humbled to have been there among some of the other award-winners. We just thought we were doing our job.”
Neil became trapped in quick-sand and just minutes away from drowning after he had tried to save his little brother in September last year.
Despite the risk of being trapped in the sand themselves, five crew members jumped into the water to help free Neil.
With sand and the quickly-rising water reaching their chests, plumber Liam Dunnett and lecturer Mark Barker fought to keep Neil’s head above water. BT engineer Darren Killick, offshore crane operator Rob Archer and quantity surveyor Matt Adams removed their life-jackets to dig the sand away from Neil’s legs.
With just moments to spare before the water would have covered Neil’s face, he was freed from the sand and suffered only mild hypothermia, cuts and bruises.
HM Coastguard officers Colin Lodge and Chris Hornsey were first on the scene and also won the award.