A Hartlepool-based lifeboat capsized twice in violent seas as it went to the aid of a stricken tanker almost 23 years ago.
Scout, a Waveney-class boat, was buffeted by 60mph gales and 45ft waves after responding to an SOS by Danish ship Freja Svea off the coast of Redcar.
But, as the tanker headed for the rocks, so a freak wave caught Scout and rolled the boat over twice – the first capsize for an RNLI lifeboat in ten years.
Most of the crew suffered nothing worse than a few cuts and bruises, but lifeboatman Robbie Maiden - then aged 26 - was swept overboard and almost died.
“It was horrible. It was like being in a tumble drier, I was just concentrating on keeping air in my lungs,” the volunteer rescuer later recalled.
“After about 15 minutes I was aware hypothermia was setting in. I thought about swimming for it, but there was no way I would have made it over the rocks.”
The Freja Svea had been waiting to come into the Tees estuary to fill up with oil when she fouled her anchors and drifted on February 28, 1993.
Teesmouth lifeboat was first on the scene but, as treacherous seas pushed the tanker towards the rocks, so a large wave almost capsized the lifeboat as well.
After the port engine malfunctioned, the vessel was forced to stand by. Scout was eventually called out after it was found repairs could not be made at sea.
Once Scout had escorted the damaged lifeboat back to base, so the Hartlepool crew sailed to the scene of the wreck.
“We were standing by while a helicopter rescued the tanker crew,” said Robbie, who later became coxwain of Hartlepool’s all-weather lifeboat Betty Huntbatch.
“After a couple of hours the weather was that bad the helicopter had to land on Redcar beach. We were told to stand by in case we were needed to do anything.
“Out of nowhere a dirty great big rogue wave came and capsized us and I was washed off. We capsized twice in a matter of moments.”
Robbie was left gasping for breath in the freezing sea - and a mile from land. As waves crashed around him, he fought for his life for 35 minutes.
“Luckily for me the helicopter was still there and the pilot took the decision to attempt to take off for me. He did and he found me,” said Robbie.
The brave rescuer suffered cracked ribs in the incident, and also needed stitches. “I think I pushed it to the limits of survival,” he later admitted.
Scout also survived the terrible night but, after limping back to harbour, needed £56,000-worth of repairs.
* Scout remained in Hartlepool until 1997, when she was sold to the Uruguay lifeboat service.