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River rescue DRAMA

PUBLISHED: 17:18 18 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:28 23 August 2010

DISASTER: A gaping hole at the bottom of the yacht is revealed as the vessel is hauled from the Thames.

DISASTER: A gaping hole at the bottom of the yacht is revealed as the vessel is hauled from the Thames.

A 15-YEAR-OLD girl in a sleeping bag plunged into the icy Thames when a yacht was suddenly ripped apart. She is among four people, including her 45-year-old father, who were rescued by lifeboat crews after the collision at about 11.15am on Tuesday. Crew

A 15-YEAR-OLD girl in a sleeping bag plunged into the icy Thames when a yacht was suddenly ripped apart.

She is among four people, including her 45-year-old father, who were rescued by lifeboat crews after the collision at about 11.15am on Tuesday.

Crews at Gravesend RNLI received a mayday call from 'The Muddy Water' boat which had hit a submerged object and was taking in water near Tilbury Marshes, East Tilbury.

Seconds later the 27ft vessel sunk as the duo and two 19-year-old men also on board fought for their lives in the freezing conditions.

An eyewitness to the smash raised the alarm, saving the lives of all those on board.

Duty helmsman Graham Tassell, of Gravesend RNLI, said: "It was quite a tense one. Although they all wore foul weather gear, only the yacht owner was wearing a lifejacket. He was only semi-conscious and after being in the water for such a short time his body temperature had dropped about five degrees to a life-threatening level.

"We think the yacht hit something that ripped the bottom of the boat off, completely destroying the keel. We understand she was travelling at about 5 or 6 knots and against the wind and the tide.

"The daughter had been in her sleeping bag at the time of the incident, and hadn't managed to get out. She was struggling inside it in the water. We saw her go underneath at least twice during the rescue."

The yacht was travelling from Whistable up the Thames Estuary to London when the horrendous accident happened. Initial reports suggest it hit an underwater groyne - a rigid structure built to interrupt water flow and limit movement of sediment.

Lifeboat crews told how they were 'shocked' to discover the daughter struggling in the water still in her sleeping bag. The teenager and her father were in the water for about 10 minutes.

Rescuers pulled them both out and onto a boat belonging to the Port of London Authority. They used a safety line to rescue the two other men who had managed to make their way to the mud line of the river.

All four were taken to Darent Valley Hospital by Kent Ambulance.

Mr Tassell added: "The young girl was pretty distraught when we were all back at the lifeboat station pier. She thought she had lost her teddy bear, but we even managed to rescue that from the water. She seemed to cheer up quite a lot when we handed him back to her, a little sodden, but still intact."

The RNLI says the incident highlights the importance of wearing a life jacket. Wayne Bellamy, Thames Lifeboat duty manager said: "I am extremely proud of the crew of Gravesend RNLI lifeboat for the quick response which enabled them to save the lives of four people. Their actions are a credit to the RNLI and I am very impressed with their speed and quick thinking."

Anthony Mayhew, watch manager at London Coastguard, added: "Thanks to the person who witnessed this incident unfolding and dialled 999 for the coastguard. With the information received from that person we were able to swiftly direct rescue resources to the situation these sailors found themselves in. This incident could very easily have had a different outcome.

"Everyone on or near the water should wear lifejackets."

Were you on board or did you call 999? Contact the news team on 01474 320749.

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