Ben and Gavin were only 15 minutes from death

Crew members at RNLI Arbroath with the two guys rescued from their jet ski incident sitting at the front of the group, they areGavin Smith and Ben Thomason.
Crew members at RNLI Arbroath with the two guys rescued from their jet ski incident sitting at the front of the group, they areGavin Smith and Ben Thomason.

The Arbroath lifeboat crew has been praised after rescuing a pair of stranded men last year.

Ben Thomson from Dundee and his friend Gavin Smith returned to Arbroath Lifeboat Shed on Tuesday to thank the crew for their efforts and to help publicise the work of the RNLI.

Their visit came as the RNLI released figures from last year showing that Arbroath was the sixth busiest station in Scotland with a total of 41 launches resulting in 23 people rescued.

2012 was a record year for the charity and across Scotland. There were 1,008 shouts and 1,055 lives saved.

Ben and Gavin were part of a group of five jet-skiing out of Broughty Ferry when a string of unfortunate events saw the two stranded at sea.

The pair were left clinging to a dead jet ski while their companions returned to Broughty Ferry for fuel and help.

Ben took up the story: “Now there were four of us and only two good skis. We asked one of the other lads to tow in the other ski and me and Gav would sit with his ski until it had cooled down and head back to Broughty Ferry. But it just didn’t come back to life.

“One of the other lads went back for help but by the time they came back they had run out of fuel and by the time they had gone back and refuelled we were out to the Abertay Sands which these guys call ‘The washing machine’.”

Their friends raised the alarm but the coordinates they gave the RNLI were off as the tide had carried them away from their last sighted position.

Ben continued: “Once we were over the Abertay Sands and into the bigger waves we were just trying to keep hold of the jet ski and make it a bigger object to look for rather than just two heads bobbing in the water.

“Once we were through the waves the back end of the jet ski had sunk and only the nose was left. We took the decision to leave the jet ski and use the tide and the current to try to swim to shore. But the tide was too strong and it kept pulling us out to the North Sea.

“We saw the RAF helicopter coming over the top of us but it flew over and kept going. That’s when we thought we were finished. The light was fading and it was starting to get dark.

“We didn’t know Arbroath was out as well, Gavin saw the lights on the Arbroath boat and it was actually 200 metres from us. All we had left was a whistle so we started blowing to get their attention.

“It seemed like it took for ever but the lifeboat eventually turned and came towards us.

“We found out later the only reason they found us was because there was a shout from the Aberdeen Coastguard and they couldn’t hear it over the radio so they turned the engines down.

“Tommy Yule was the man who heard the whistle, he heard it standing up the front of the boat and headed straight for us.”

Ben described it as a harrowing experience. He said: “The doctor said that from the condition we were in another 15 minutes in the water the decision would have been made for us.

“When we were in the water we kind of gave up hope, but the two of us kept each other going talking about our children and our families.

“After the helicopter flew over we were going to finish it. Do we fall asleep, take a deep breath of water? It was getting to the point it was already dark, anyway. That’s where we found ourselves at this point, just talking of ways to make it easy.”

Ben and Gavin have been meeting up with their rescuers at regular intervals and have plans in the pipeline for fund-raising.

Ben said: “These guys here are actual heroes. You couldn’t put a price on what these guys do. They’re just absolutely fantastic.

“It’s not until you’ve been in the situation that you realise how much these guys put their own lives at risk to come out and save the lives of other people and leaving their families at home.”

Arbroath Lifeboat coxswain Tommy Yule added: “There’s been a wee bit of camaraderie and laughing since the rescue. They are so thankful we saved them, another 15 minutes and they would not have been so lucky.

“This is one of the crew’s and one of my most memorable of saving a person’s life and I’ve been on the crew for 20 years.

“Since the new marina got built there’s been an influx of pleasure craft and so more boats mean more faults and more call outs and more break downs.”