‘RNLI gave us 10 more years with dad’

(left to right) Stephen, Julie and Lee Chapman with RNLI mechanic Garry Waugh.
(left to right) Stephen, Julie and Lee Chapman with RNLI mechanic Garry Waugh.

FISHERMAN Alan Chapman was always too deeply affected to ever speak publicly about the freak rainstorm which battered Hartlepool and claimed the life of his friend when their boat sank 10 years ago

But a decade on, much-loved Alan’s story has been exclusively told through the words of his precious children following his recent death from heart complications.

Alan Chapman with his first boat in the 1990s.

Alan Chapman with his first boat in the 1990s.

They want to thank and raise awareness for Hartlepool’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) heroes who saved their father’s life and provided them with another 10 years together.

“If it hadn’t have been for the RNLI we would have lost our dad,” said Alan’s daughter, Julie Chapman, 42. “We want to do what we can to thank them for giving us another 10 years with him.

“Even if by doing this we raise a bit of awareness and hopefully some money then our job will be done.

“It was a miracle that our dad survived and it’s all down to them. What happened to him affected him for the rest of his life, and it affected our lives too.”

Alan Chapman, Aged 64.

Alan Chapman, Aged 64.

Dad-of-three Alan was 66-years-old when he passed away peacefully in the University Hospwital of North Tees, in Stockton, on Easter Sunday.

But the active family man and self-employed builder had harboured within himself the traumatic events of August 10, 2003 – a day which his family say changed him as a person forever.

Journalists and media organisations asked for Alan to speak about his “miraculous rescue” from the sea off Hartlepool by a passing RNLI lifeboat but he never felt that he could.

Julie and her brother Lee Chapman, 37, believe that now is the right time to tell their dad’s story.

Alan Chapman, Aged 62.

Alan Chapman, Aged 62.

“It started off as quite a nice day and we knew dad had gone out on the boat with a friend,” said Julie, a mum-of-two from the Elwick Road area of Hartlepool. “The weather came over all dark and I remember ringing Lee and saying ‘I’m a bit worried about my dad’.”

Lee, a dad-of-one from Fulbeck Close, off Brierton Lane, said: “I told Julie not to be silly and that he’d be fine because he’d had plenty of experience over the years, probably 20 years plus. I thought no more of it.”

A short time later though, Lee – who also has a brother Stephen Chapman, 29, a dad-of-one from the Hart Lane area of town – received another phone call from his elder sister telling him that Alan had been involved in an incident at sea.

Alan and his pal Keith Evans were sailing back into Hartlepool and were near the Heugh when all of a sudden the skies “turned black from nowhere and it started 
absolutely sheeting it down with really heavy rain, a storm whipped up and there was a mini twister like something you would see in America”.

The vessel started swaying violently and was rapidly filling with rain water, which overloaded the pumps that were being used to clear it away.

Lee said: “As the boat was getting more and more weighed down with water, it just flipped.

“My dad and Keith managed to get into the wheelhouse (the cabin on top of the boat), but it all happened so quickly that they didn’t have time to put their life jackets on or even make a May Day call for help.

“The boat flipped and sank there and then, while they were in the wheelhouse.”

Lee, who held back tears as he recounted the tale, added: “My dad told me that it hit the bottom of the sea and the pressure of the water behind the wheelhouse door was too much.

“But eventually they managed to force it open and 
the water just sucked them out.

“There must have been 60ft of water above them and my dad said he just followed the bubbles as they were going up, absolutely scrambling, and only just managed to make it to the surface before he had to take a breath.”

Fully-clothed Alan began to tread water in the icy depths when suddenly a piece of wood from his boat popped up and he managed to take a hold.

“He clung to the piece of wood but it kept turning over so he was constantly having to haul himself back onto it,” said Lee.

“He said he was doing that for so long, about 45 minutes, that he started to feel so peaceful and he was ready to let go.”

It was only by chance that a lifeboat, which was on a May Day call to another vessel, went past at that moment.

An eagle-eyed lifesaver called Carl Betts, who now lives in Leeds, spotted him and a rescue attempt was launched.

Carl jumped into the cold water and held onto Alan before he was winched out unconscious and had to have sea water he had swallowed pumped from his lungs.

He was take back to the RNLI Life Boat Station and was rushed to the University Hospital of Hartlepool where he spent several days suffering from severe hypothermia, and weakened lungs from the water he had taken in, with doctors giving him just a 50/50 chance of survival.

Brave Alan managed to pull round though but was left with mental scars from his ordeal and suffered flashbacks and nightmares.

Tragic Keith was not so lucky and he was pulled lifeless from the water.

Friends and relatives of Alan – who also used to run the Hartlepool Korean Karate Club and enjoyed rock climbing, shooting and metal detecting in his lifetime – managed to raise £240 for the RNLI at his funeral. They now want to help raise more.

“The RNLI don’t get the recognition they deserve and we hope that when people read this they will donate,” said Julie. “Dad never got over what happened but he always just tried to deal with it himself.

“It ate away at him slowly and we believe it was one of the things that led to his deterioration.

“Now is the right time to tell his story.”

Lee added: “He wanted us to know everything that happened and he would have been over the moon for us now to raise awareness for the charity which saved his life.”

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