AN INQUEST heard of the daring attempts to rescue a tragic teacher who became trapped in a sea cave.
Harrowing accounts of rescuers were given at an inquest into the death of Charlotte 'Buffy' Furness-Smith, who was heard to scream 'Get me out of here' before she died.
Coastguards faced a race against time in 'atrocious' conditions' to save the life of the 30-year-old teacher and former Royal Navy reservist who had been washed into a cave on the Jurassic Coast during a coasteering adventure.
Portland Coastguard helicopter winchman paramedic Adrian Rogers said he was lowered down to the cave and managed to speak to Charlotte through a blowhole.
He said she sounded “distressed and scared” but he was unable to rescue her on his own.
A volunteer coastguard team then attempted a rope-assisted rescue through a blowhole as they said it was impossible to enter via the cave mouth. The team said they worked 'at the edge of what was safe' but believed there was a chance they could save her.
Ian Bugler, who volunteered to be lowered down, said: “The cave was very dark and murky.
“She was being thrown around in the water and was face down being thrown against the ledge. At this point I was satisfied that she had died.
“I was bashed about by the waves. I was getting very concerned for my own safety. Eventually I was pulled up.”
His father, Andrew Bugler, also a volunteer coastguard, said: “I could hear her screaming 'get me out of here'. She was terrified.
“We were all nervous about this rescue as sending someone into a blowhole in these circumstances is not something we have done before.”
Gareth Kitching said: “We decided any attempt at a rescue through the mouth of the cave would be futile. It was incredibly rough and I feared Ian would die in that cave.
“We were playing right at the very edge of what was safe. I can't tell you how atrocious the conditions were.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing and given my time again I would not have deployed him into that hole. He is a very brave man.”
Russell Thompson of coasteering company Cumulus Outdoors said: “I would never have thought about getting into the water on that day.”
He added that he and a colleague had been “weather-watching” and said the area might be suitable on “a flat, calm day for someone with coasteering experience”.
Brother's bid to get help
THE devastated brother of Charlotte Furness-Smith told the inquest of his desperate attempts to get help.
Alex Furness-Smith was washed into the cave near Swanage with his sister in November last year.
He managed to swim to safety and raise the alarm but his sister could not be rescued and died at the scene.
The pair had travelled to Dorset to go kite-surfing but decided to go coasteering instead due to the weather conditions. Coasteering is an adventure activity that involves free climbing up and along a rock face and jumping into the water to swim.
Charlotte, a maths teacher from London, was an engineering graduate and former Royal Navy reservist. She was a strong swimmer.
Charlotte's body was never recovered but an inquest is underway at Bournemouth after Dorset Coroner Sheriff Payne applied for permission from the Chief Coroner in London to conduct inquiries.
Mr Furness-Smith, 31, from Amersham in Buckinghamshire, said sea conditions rapidly deteriorated after they entered the water near the Tilly Whim caves.
He said: “The swell had become much larger. I was tossed upside down under water and into the cave.
“Buffy was a bit scared at this point - I told her it would be OK.”
He said he seized the opportunity to get out of the cave to raise the alarm, leaving his sister behind.
“The only option was for one of us to try to get out and get help. I decided I would go out and try to get help rather than risk both of us getting smashed against the rocks.”
He managed to attract the attention of people on the clifftop and a rescue operation was mounted.
The inquest continues.