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Harrowing audio played at inquest of Nicholas Warren who went into rough sea to save his dog

By Eleanor Perkins

A harrowing audio recording was heard during an inquest into the death of a man who went into rough sea to save his dog.

As part of the distressing emergency call, the partner of Nicholas Warren was heard struggling to describe their location to HM Coastguard operatives, who scrambled a search involving two lifeboats and a helicopter.

Panic-stricken Deborah Douglas was trying to describe the area, known locally as the The Butts, Oldstairs Bay and The Rifle Range, to two people at the control headquarters, temporarily based at Fareham in Hampshire instead of Dover.

Nicholas Warren, 57, died in November 2015 (4681677)
Nicholas Warren, 57, died in November 2015 (4681677)

But the inquest, at Sandwich Guildhall, heard that Walmer's volunteer RNLI crew was initially sent to search the sea at The Zetland.

During the call Ms Douglas urgently relayed how the 57-year-old roofer had turned face down in the water at the foot of the cliffs.

When the lifeboat men found no casualty at the Zetland, helmsman Andrew Howland asked The Coastguard control for an update and was then told to move the search to the foot of the cliffs.

By the time the Atlantic and D Class inshore lifeboats arrived, just minutes after the initial alarm was raised, Mr Warren was unresponsive in the water.

The father of two died of immersion in water and Ischemic heart-disease. He was pronounced dead at the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital in Margate shortly after, on November 29, 2015.

The inquest is scheduled to run for five days until Friday and it is coroner Alan Blunsdon's aim that his report will reduce the risk of further deaths at the spot which recently incurred an appeal for location markers to aid people in the event of an emergency at Oldstairs Bay and The Rifle Range.

The inquest heard how volunteer crew members from Walmer RNLI performed CPR on Nicholas Warren from the moment he was recovered until he was winched up by a helicopter.

Five of them gave evidence on the first day of the hearing on Monday.

Helmsman Andrew Howland explained how their response time was "exceptionally fast" due to two members, including himself, already being at the station and four others were 300m away in a coffee shop.

He explained that the volunteers are expected to live within one and a half miles of the station in The Strand and on an ordinary day can take up to 10 minutes to travel there.

Wreaths near to the scene at Oldstairs Bay, Kingsdown, where Nicholas Warren entered the sea after his dog.
Wreaths near to the scene at Oldstairs Bay, Kingsdown, where Nicholas Warren entered the sea after his dog.

In almost identical accounts they described how their pagers sounded, instructing deployment of both of the station's boats.

While getting changed into their kit, deputy launch authority Andrew Worwood, who has 52 years experience with the RNLI, informed them a patient was face down in the water off the Zetland.

The smaller inshore D Class launched first led by helsman Daniel Sinclair with crew members Edward Benson and Luke Curry onboard followed by the Atlantic with Lee Waddon, Andrew Coe and Andrew Howland at the helm.

The hearing heard how the Atlantic reached the Zetland area first and spent "no longer than a minute" searching the site, but to no avail.

It was when Mr Howland contacted the call centre for an update that he was instructed to move the search to the cliff area. By this time, the slower D Class dinghy was still enroute to the Zetland area.

Mr Benson on the D Class boat said: "By the time we arrived at the Zetland we had been informed of the update."

The vessel, designed for more precarious coastal and rock rescues, progressed forward without stopping. They were directed to Mr Warren by members of the Atlantic.

He said: "When we came over the top of the waves we could see Mr Warren in the water.

"The first sight I had of Mr Warren was of the top of his back and shoulders in the water.

"The waves were crashing off the wall. The water was quite violent at this point.

"It would have been impossible for anybody with any physical fitness because of the strength of the sea to swim to the shore" - Edward Benson

"A lot of people were waving.

"He was only a few metres from the wall, quite close to the shore. We had to put the safety of the vessel and ourselves first.

"I elevated his head out of the water. There was no sign of life."

He continued: "It would have been impossible for anybody with any physical fitness because of the strength of the sea to swim to the shore."

Mr Warren was lifted into the vessel where Mr Sinclair began CPR. He was then transferred to the larger vessel, along with Mr Benson who continued CPR on rotation with Mr Waddon. Oxygen was also administered but his condition did not change.

Mr Coe told the hearing: "Unless a patient is headless or we know they have been in the water head down for 90 minutes we are asked to perform CPR."

Video footage played at the hearing showed the men perform continuous chest compressions as they headed back to the station where a net recovery and tractor brought them to shore.

Once beached on the pebbles, a helicopter, deployed from Lydd, winched Mr Warren from the boat.

Crew members described how a paramedic, approached the boat to contest the winchman's decision to take the patient.

However the winchman responded with hand signals, which the lifeboat volunteers understood to mean 'No, he's going up'.

The unnamed paramedic later told Mr Worwood that the heart team were on hand at the station and that Mr Warren should have been taken by road crews.

Mr Warren was flown to the QEQM Hospital in Margate where he was later pronounced dead. He died of immersion in water and Ischemic heart disease.

South East Coast Ambulance Service is expected to give evidence later in the week.

Nicholas Warren with his daughters Shanice Warren and Lisa Rogers (4681670)
Nicholas Warren with his daughters Shanice Warren and Lisa Rogers (4681670)

A frustrated and panic-stricken Deborah Douglas was heard pleading with Mr Warren to "hold on" when he encountered difficulties after going into the sea to save Maisy his dog.

In a recording of her emergency phone call played in the coroner's court, Ms Douglas from Deal tells the operator that Mr Warren and his dog were in the water "just past The Butts," and begs "please hurry up."

But the operator, at the temporary base the Maritime Agency Operations Centre in Fareham became distressed.

The call, which began at 12.34pm on Sunday, November 29, 2015, was passed to another person. Senior operations handler Elizabeth Hanson, who had overheard the conversation, provided the overview.

Ms Douglas can be heard directing them: "By the golf club, we're just past The Butts... no, further... by the Zetland Arms."

She continues: "He's really suffering and he's got a bad chest.

"Drive along Kingsdown Road until you can't drive no more. Come through the foot path.

"Drive along the footpath. Please just hurry up."

Head of aviation from HMS Coastguard Douglas McDonald explained to the hearing that the call location flashed up on an automatic map which is correct to around 500metres, but a refined location was needed.

The operative asked whether Zetland is with a J or a Z before Ms Douglas is heard encouraging her partner to "hold on".

She pleads: "Nick, come on. Don't you dare die, Nick. Just keep breathing."

Following this, the call handler tells Ms Douglas that they need to "engage assets".

"He was only a few metres from the wall, quite close to the shore" - Edward Benson

But she tells the operator that "he's blue" and she fears he's going to die.

She continues: "He's face down in the water. Turn over, Nick. Just get an ambulance. He's gone. He's died."

Ms Douglas describes to the operator how he is about a foot away from her, down a great big ridge.

Ms Douglas is told that two lifeboats and a helicopter are on their way but she responds: "It's too late."

She says: "I told you by the Zetland Arms, by the foot of the cliffs. It's not rocket science. Where are they?"

"The man has just died in front of my eyes."

The caller tries to calm Ms Douglas by reminding her she is "their eyes on the ground". She asks her to point at the casualty to aid lifeboat crews.

"We've got people coming to meet with you and people to come and rescue Nick," the operator says.

Ms Douglas says that Mr Warren is going further away and then can be heard saying she can see the lifeboat coming in the distance.

She states that the lifeboat has stopped at the Zetland and says they need to come further down.

Nicholas Warren, 57, died in November 2015 (4681677)
Nicholas Warren, 57, died in November 2015 (4681677)

She describes her clothing - a bright scarf and navy jacket - and the location of Mr Warren who is "in a blue t-shirt, by a lot of seaweed".

The crew reach Mr Warren and recover him, reporting back within 22 minutes from when the call began, that Mr Warren is in a critical condition.

The operator tells Ms Douglas that the ambulance crews are waiting for them at the station in Walmer.

Ms Douglas tells the operator she needs to get off the phone and call her uncle. The call ends.

In a statement read at the hearing, Ms Douglas said: "The conversation was extremely frustrating.

"I thought I was speaking to somebody locally at Dover Coastguard Station. I said head straight to the Zealand Arms to the cliffs. Kingsdown Golf Course is above my head. They kept saying Deborah, we can't locate you.

"I remember telling them, it's easy - just head to the Zetland Arms.

"I was angry and upset. I said I'd had enough and I wanted to get myself off the sea wall and get some help."

Head of aviation from HMS Coastguard Douglas McDonald told the hearing how there was a slight delay in reaching the lifeboat crew as the pager numbers had been entered incorrectly, although this was resolved by a technical operator.

Ms Hanson's statement stated that at least five other incidents were running at the centre at the same time but the log was created within three minutes of the call.

The call began at 12.34pm and within 22 minutes, lifeboat crews had reported back that Mr Warren had been recovered but was in a critical condition.

Mr McDonald explained how the operators are trained to draw information from an informant.

He told the hearing: "If a situation is calmer, you can get much more done. If stress levels are up, it impacts on the effectiveness of the operators.

"It has happenes on occasions [that the operators get distressed] and it's something that we continue to provide training for. It would be inappropriate to keep someone who is traumatised in a situation who wouldn't be as effective as someone who is fresh."

The inquest continues until tomorrow.

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