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Dramatic marshland rescue of Peter Pugh: In the rescuer’s own words

PUBLISHED: 09:12 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:45 09 December 2018

The Norfolk Marshland rescue team win the Special Recognition award at the  Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Norfolk Marshland rescue team win the Special Recognition award at the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

The men and women behind the miraculous marshland rescue of a stranded, half-submerged pensioner have told their remarkable tale.

The moment the rescue team approached missing man Peter Pugh after a police drone found him stuck in the marshes at Titchwell. Photo: Norfolk ConstabularyThe moment the rescue team approached missing man Peter Pugh after a police drone found him stuck in the marshes at Titchwell. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

And the mission’s fame has spread, with the drone operator summoned to Brussels to show the EU how to use the machines in emergencies.

The story began when Peter Pugh, 75, became separated from a family walk on Brancaster Beach at 5.10pm on June 16, prompting a huge rescue operation.

On Wednesday evening, 30 people involved in the rescue, including Norfolk Police, HM Coastguard, Hunstanton and Wells lifeboats and Norfolk Lowland and Search Service, were presented with a special recognition award at the EDP Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards at The Halls in Norwich.

Sgt Danny Leach from Norfolk Constabulary’s drone unit, who accepted the award on stage, piloted the drone that first spotted Mr Pugh stuck in dense reed beds and marshland at Titchwell 21 hours later, on Sunday, June 17.

Peter Pugh and his wife Felicity at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn Picture: QEHPeter Pugh and his wife Felicity at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn Picture: QEH

Sgt Leach said: “The tactics we used we presented to the EU in Brussels about six weeks ago on how to search with a drone. Internationally it’s regarded as one of the best drone rescues. With the marshes you look for tracks, and that’s the reason we found him.”

John Crosthwaite, deputy station master at Wells Coastguard, said: “We used deductive reasoning to work out the best way forward with our searches.

“Between us we picked up three main clues. There was a sighting from a radio appeal, we had some footprints on the marsh, and we had RSPB camera traps to take pictures of wildlife which took a picture of him.

“It will never happen like that again, it’s a one off. His wife phoned me, because I know the Pugh family, to say Peter should be home and he’s not. It was completely out of character - if you can think of someone who is as reliable and normal as can be suddenly disappearing - it’s not going to happen. It was one of those situations when you know there’s something not right. I said call 999, explain the situation and we’ll get everything underway. Over the next 24 hours we ended up with over 50 people from various organisations.”

Sgt Danny Leach from the drone unit with Peter Pugh at the Norfolk Police headquarters in Wymondham Picture: Norfolk ConstabularySgt Danny Leach from the drone unit with Peter Pugh at the Norfolk Police headquarters in Wymondham Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

PC Stuart Locke, an officer co-ordinating the search, said: “The RSPB pictures gave us a direction of travel for Peter.

“I’ve known Sgt Leach now for a number of years and I know what the drones are capable of, so I passed that on to Sgt Leach who went back out onto the salt marshes and found him within about 20 minutes.”

He added: “The fact the drone technology is at a standard where we can use them in this way is going to speed up our jobs and help vulnerable people.

“If you’ve got a line of searchers, there’s a lot of health and safety that needs to go into that to walk across a salt marsh. With a drone you can just fly over the top of it. Everybody was there in the right place at the right time, which is unusual but that day everything worked.”

Glen Roskilly, crew manager at Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) helped pull the hypothermic Mr Pugh out of the marsh, alongside David Jackson with Steve Polley, dog handler and Paolo the English Springer spaniel.

Mr Roskilly said: “PC Locke called up and said: ‘we’ve found him, and he’s waving’, which was an amazing feeling. We then went through the marshes which was difficult terrain up to your waist in water plus the reeds, but eventually we turned a corner and Mr Pugh was there. He just didn’t know what was going on, had no idea where he was.

“We had a rescue sledge which we laid him on to get him out of the water and dressed him in dry clothes. The helicopter came and flew him off and that was the last we saw of him.

“We do a lot of recovering so to actually do a rescue is fantastic.”

See Monday’s EDP for an eight-page special on the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney event.

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