Emergency stops helicopter display

PLANS to stage a dramatic helicopter rescue at Roker had to be scrapped – after a real-life emergency intervened.

The display – involving a search-and-rescue chopper from RAF Boulmer – was to have been the centrepiece of a fund-raising day at Roker, organised by the Sunderland RNLI Lifeboat Station and Lifeboat Guild.

The demonstration had to be scrapped, however, when the helicopter was diverted to an emergency call close to its Northumberland base. Crowds were entertained by a lifeboat rescue instead.

The RNLI Harbour Day yesterday was a huge success, raising more than 2,000, which will go towards the cost of running the city's inshore lifeboat.

Paula Knowles and Richard Battershill took sons John, eight, and Joshua, four, along with 11-year-old family friend Jospeh Hiscock, from East Boldon, along for the fun.

"It's a disappointment that the helicopter has been cancelled, but the boys have still really enjoyed themselves," said Richard.

"It has still been a good day."

This is the first year the RNLI has taken over responsibility for the city's lifeguard service and supervisor Ben Mitchell said it had been a busy summer, with some people failing to appreciate the dangers of the sea.

He said: "Just yesterday we had a swimmer who set out to swim to the buoys.

"The lifeguards saw what was happening and sent the boat out – by the time they got there, he was very tired and he had to be brought back to shore by the boat.

"We have had people who have got into trouble after drinking and kite-surfers and canoeists who have run into problems.

"That is why we urge people always to use a life-guarded beach. Then if anything does go wrong, the lifeguards are there."

Every year, the RNLI on Wearside is called to dozens of incidents, with Sunderland the busiest lifeboat station on the East coast in 2008.

But for volunteers to remain at the top of their game, the charity has to continually raise funds for vital life-saving training – and that is where the Echo's Launch a Lifesaver appeal comes in.

Send cheques to Sunderland Echo Launch a Lifesaver appeal, c/o James Johnston, Sunderland Echo, Echo House, Pennywell, Sunderland SR4 9ER.

Also, fund-raisers can publicise events in aid of the RNLI in the Echo by emailing details to james.johnston@northeast-press.co.uk