'They risked their lives to save a stranger'

Published
Image caption,
Martin Stephen jumped into the water in December 1970 when his cousin David was swept into the sea during a storm

Fifty years after tragedy struck in the water off East Lothian, a man has thanked the RNLI lifeboat crew that saved him.

Martin Stephen lost his cousin David Jeffrey and almost lost his own life when they were swept into a strong swell as a force 10 gale battered Dunbar two days before Christmas in 1970.

The pair had been climbing rocks at the entrance to Dunbar harbour to watch the storm roll in, as they had done many times before.

A freak wave pulled 11-year-old David into the water. Martin, who was 21, jumped in after him to try to save him but the waves were just too strong.

David was swept away and never found. Martin was left struggling against the swell.

The lifeboat crew at Dunbar was deployed and after a dramatic rescue mission, Martin was pulled from the sea.

Image caption,
Martin Stephen wrote to the coxswain of the Dunbar lifeboat crew and ended up speaking on a video call with one of the men who helped him

Five decades later, Martin wrote to the crew to thank them once more for their brave actions which allowed him to go on and live a full and happy life.

And he had the opportunity to talk via videocall to Davie Kittrick - one of the men who helped him.

Davie was a young volunteer and he managed to pull Martin's head above the water as other crew members joined the rescue.

Martin was eventually pulled aboard the Margaret lifeboat, where he was resuscitated. The men took it in turns to keep him alive until they could get him ashore.

Freezing water

Davie told Martin on BBC Scotland's The Nine that he remembered it well.

He said: "You were totally submerged apart from the top of your head when I saw you."

Martin thanked him and shared his own memories.

"What I do remember is the hypothermia starting in my feet and then I blacked out," Martin said.

"I was extraordinarily lucky. You don't know how you survive that. To this day, I don't know why I am still here."

David Brunton was the crew member who jumped into the freezing water and pulled Martin out of the water that day.

He is no longer alive, and it is only now that his son Jamie has learned the full details of the rescue.

Image caption,
David Brunton received an award for his bravery on jumping into the freezing water to save 21-year-old Martin

Jamie said: "I remember my dad coming home soaking wet. If it hadn't been for my mother who put the plaque up on the wall that he got for the rescue, we wouldn't have known anything about it. Dad wasn't keen to talk about it.

"It was an eye-opener what these people can do and what they take for granted. My dad and his five brothers all went out on the lifeboat as crew members. It is incredible what they do."

David Brunton was awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry.

Martin, a retired headteacher, says that despite the years that have passed, the bravery shown that day has had an impact on many lives.

Image source, Martin Stephen
Image caption,
Thanks to the lifeboat crew Martin Stephen went on to have three sons and five grandchildren

He said: "I have been given the most extraordinary Christmas present any human being can give. One life was tragically lost on that day, but David Brunton didn't just save one life - he saved nine lives. He saved my three sons and five grandchildren.

"I am 71 now and have had an amazingly happy wonderful life - and that is all because one man and the whole crew were prepared to put their lives on the line for people they don't know and have never met.

"I think that is quite extraordinary."