Commander of Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy lifeboat crew retires after 34 years


February 17, 2020

The man who led the rescue team during the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy has retired from the town's lifeboat service after 34 years.

Harry Roberts MBE was commander of Morecambe hovercraft crew on the fateful night of February 5 2004 when 23 people from China lost their lives while cockle picking in the bay.

He flew the hovercraft for 22 hours during the search for victims and survivors and then, despite physical and mental exhaustion, relaunched the hovercraft with his crew at 11pm the following night for another rescue mission.

A spokesperson for Morecambe lifeboat station said he was a "very popular and respected member of the station personnel" and would be "missed deeply".

"It's time to hang up the yellow wellies after 34 years," said Harry.

"There is going to be a big void in my life. But due to problems with my health it is time to retire. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some brilliant people over the years, many have become good friends."

Harry's first joined the volunteer lifeboat crew in 1986 as a crew member and worked his way up the ranks to become senior helmsman.

He became the first volunteer hovercraft commander for the RNLI then senior hovercraft commander at the station for several years.

Harry was awarded an MBE in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to maritime safety. This was the second time Harry met the queen, the first being in 1999 when the Eric Morecambe statue was unveiled.

The medal was awarded in the ball room in Buckingham Palace.

Harry said: "My colleagues at the lifeboat station were very pleased for me but the honour is for the station as well. It's more than just me, it's teamwork. I can't do it without them."

In 2018, Harry retired from his senior hovercraft commander role due to ill health. He then accepted the new pivotal role of deputy launching authority, a vital decision-making role which assesses if it is safe for the lifeboat and hovercraft to launch when an emergency call comes through.

Harry is also retiring from his role as station mechanic, a role he has held at the station since 1993.

Previously D-Class mechanic and since 2002, hovercraft mechanic, this saw him look after the maintenance of Morecambe's hovercraft the 'Hurley Flyer' and her transporter 'Spirit of Morecambe'. He also inspired and trained many volunteers.