Thames lifeboat rescue: Man clinging to barge 'jumped in because he thought he saw someone drowning'

A London crew plucked the man from the 'jaws of death'

The Thames is notorious for its murky depths and icy undercurrents that can claim a human body for perpetuity - but one man was saved from a watery grave by a lifeboat crew in a dramatic night-time river rescue.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) crew from Tower lifeboat station were called into action following reports of a person in the water by HMS Belfast just after 8pm on Wednesday night.

Passengers on a passing Thames clipper spotted the desperate victim, in his twenties, clinging to a driftwood collecting barge in the middle of the capital's mighty river.

The man told his rescuers that he had jumped into the water after seeing what he perceived to be another person drowning.

Stuart Morrison, Chris Walker and Stephen Wheatley plucked the struggling man, who is Italian, from the water close to City Hall.

The rescue was captured by a video camera mounted in the life boat.

54-year-old Mr Morrison told the London Evening Standard: “It was dramatic.

“The tide was on the ebb which means he was in the path of the rubbish collector and so he was in the jaws of death as we rescued him.

“Had he let go, the tide would have taken him.

“He would have had no chance and been taken straight underneath the collector.

“In another two or three minutes he would have been inside it.”

Mr Walker, 33, said: “It was dark so it was difficult spotting him, but once we saw him you could see he was hanging on to the chains with just one hand.

“It was a cold night, about eight degrees in the water and there was a two to three knot tide running at the time of the call.

“Had it been a faster spring tide he could very easily have been sucked under.

“He was very distressed and emotional and was clutching onto a piece of wood with his other hand to try and keep afloat. 

“He said he had jumped in to rescue someone else.

“We did a further search to see if anyone else was in the water but it was clear there wasn’t.”

The man was brought on board the lifeboat and taken to St Katharine Docks where London Ambulance Service was waiting.

A Met police spokesman said the victim was “suffering the effects of being cold water for a period of time”, but was “conscious and talking” to police officers.

He was later treated in a hospital.

The Marine Policing Unit, the Met helicopter and a London Fire Brigade boat supported the rescue. Crews searched the water for a further 40 minutes but found no evidence of a second casualty.

Tower lifeboat station, located next to Waterloo Bridge, is the busiest lifeboat station in the UK and Ireland. In 2013 London’s mix of full time and volunteer RNLI crew, operating from Tower, Chiswick and Teddington, rescued 372 people and saved 25 lives.

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