A man in imminent danger of drowning was plucked from the River Thames by the Tower lifeboat crew seconds after going below the surface of the water.

The lifeboat was requested to launch at this week after reports of screaming were heard from the river near Woolwich Pier. The lifeboat was on the water within seconds and made its way to the incident at speed.

Once on scene, it became apparent that the lifeboat would be unable to reach the casualty due to his location underneath a jetty, so the decision was made to prepare a crew member to enter the water.

Attempts to deploy a floatation aid and throw line were unsuccessful and, with the casualty unable to keep himself afloat with the strong current dragging him under the surface of the water, every second counted.

The man’s life was in grave danger, so a dynamic risk assessment was made, and a crew member committed to the water without a helmet. The immediate risk to life, the swell, structural surroundings and how long the casualty had been in the water meant the crew member had no other choice if he was to rescue the man.

The crew member entered the water and started to swim to where the casualty was seen to go under the surface. A throw line was also deployed by a crew member on board the lifeboat, landing at this location. The crew member in the water felt the man’s head under the water and tried to pull him up. The man rose to the surface gasping for breath; the crew member immediately took hold of the man to maintain his airway and started to swim them both back to the lifeboat.

Tower Lifeboat Helm, Steve Doherty, said:

“We wouldn’t normally enter the water without a helmet, but given the threat to life, the ten seconds it would have taken to put on the equipment could have proved fatal for the casualty.

“Without the actions of the lifeboat crew, the man would not have been rescued and would have drowned. There is no doubt this is a life saved – if we had been a minute later, the man would not have survived.”

An assessment of the casualty was carried out; he was breathing but showing signs of reduced consciousness. He was wrapped in blankets and transferred to Barrier Gardens Pier where he was passed into the care of the London Ambulance Service.

Life saved is a specific RNLI term which is decided after careful analysis of a range of criteria. A rescue is categorised as a life saved where, if it weren’t for the intervention of the RNLI, a person would most likely have died.