On Saturday 27 November 1954, the South Goodwin Lightship
broke from her anchors in winds of over 80 mph
and stranded on the Goodwin Sands off the east coast of Kent.
There was only one survivor from the tragedy, Ronald Murton,
who desperately hung on for eight hours awaiting rescue.
The Straits of Dover is the busiest shipping lane in the world. Just north of its narrowest point stands the Goodwin Sands: 35 miles of shifting sands have been the graveyard to Viking longships, galleons, liners, tugs, yachts and trawlers of every nationality and a lightship - the South Goodwin lightship LV 90. Tom Skipp was a worried man on the evening of 26 November 1954 as he prowled the deck of LV 90, checking that all was secure. Huge waves were already sweeping the deck, putting a strain on the 410 metres of heavy cable. Below, the crew were doing their best to protect themselves from the sudden jerking movements, as the wind, now a hurricane force 12, and a full flood tide battered the lightvessel. Sometime between midnight and 01:00 the cable parted but such was the battering no one would have known. Ashore, Ramsgate and Deal Coastguard were worried, but visibility was low. Suddenly, at about 01:15, LV 12 the East Goodwin Light Vessel saw its sister ship sweep past six miles north of the station; they could only watch in horror. The crew, we know, mustered in the galley and shortly afterwards the ship hit the sands in Keller Gut, collapsing onto her starboard side. Inside, the men were fighting for survival, the galley door was under water sealing off the exit, but one man, the survivor Ronald Murton, scrambled through the skylight and into the inferno that was raging above. Meanwhile lifeboats from Dover and Ramsgate and a United States search and rescue helicopter from Manston were launched, but it was not until daylight that the wreck was located by the helicopter. In an amazing feat of accurate flying, for which the crew received bravery awards, the helicopter snatched Murton from the hull. He had survived the worst channel storm in two centuries. His first words were for his fellow crewmen whom he knew were still alive in the hull. But even as the rescue operation for them was being launched the race against time and tide was being lost. The lifeboats could not get near to the light vessel and within hours the tide had enveloped her and those trapped inside her hull. The extreme weather lasted a further day, and on 28 November divers eventually were able to get onboard. There was no trace of the crew; not a single body was recovered. The ship did not disappear entirely however and at low tide traces of her can still be seen today.
They gave their lives:
Tom Skipp (Master)