Tributes to Sunderland shipwreck hero who saved 23

The Adelfotis II wrecked off the North East coast

The Adelfotis II wrecked off the North East coast


A MAN who saved lives in a major sea rescue 50 years ago has died.

Thomas Pyburn, from Monkwearmouth, helped rescue 23 Greek crew members from the Adelfotis II on January 20, 1963.

The 6,244-tonne Lebanese vessel ran aground in the Tyne Harbour at South Shields in 50mph winds.

Thomas, who died earlier this month aged 91, was married to Irene, 87, and father to Jean, 64, and Eileen, 59.

Jean, of Fulwell, said: “He was proud of that rescue because they rescued all of the crew members.

“And he was startled because after they got all the men off the ship, someone also put the ship’s wet dog in his arms.

“They did it with the breeches buoy in terrible weather conditions.

“It was cold, wet and windy and the men stood in the water to perform the rescue.”

“In those days there weren’t any mobile phones and I remember the police coming to our house to get him and take him to the rescue.”

It was the last breeches buoy rescue to take place off the North-East coast.

A breeches buoy is a harness fired out to the ship from the beach using a rocket.

People sit in the harness and are pulled back to shore in it, on a wire reeled in by the rescuers.

The Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade worked alongside the South Shields VLB to carry out the evacuation, and at the time the Echo reported that the Adelfotis II’s Captain Leonardos, who was the last person to leave the ship, praised the two brigades for saving his crew.

He said: “They did grand work and we are all very grateful.”

Thomas was a member of the VLB from 1947 until his death.

He joined after being demobbed from the navy and was a Senior Captain until 1981 when he left active service and became an Honorary Captain.

“He loved his ships,” said Jean.

“He worked as a foreman shipwright on and off at the shipyards all his life, at Sir James Laing’s and at New Doxford Shipyard.

“When he was no longer an active member of the VLB they still kept him informed of what was going on.”

A grandfather of three, and great-grandfather of two, Thomas was also President of Roker Park Bowls Club in 2001.

Jean said: “He was a very well-respected man.

“I was even surprised at how many people were at his funeral.”

A spokesman for Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade said: “Tom received a special mention for his part in the rescue of the Adelfotis II.

“His experience of the history of the brigade and lively recollections will be greatly missed by the brigade and its members.”

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull




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