Pensioners form rival beach patrol after being suspended for using drone

Llandudno - Jay Williams
Llandudno - Jay Williams

A group of elderly lifesavers have been suspended from a beach patrol group for using a drone.

The volunteers, who were previously part of National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), which keeps watch on the sea and shoreline for potential danger, have now formed their own breakaway beach patrol operation.

Station boss John Humberstone, 73, was suspended from his position after the group bought a drone to help them patrol the beach at Llandudno’s Great Orme.

He said that as the group were elderly men they could not go “charging down” to emergencies and the drone would enable them to survey the area from the sky.

But Mr Humberstone said officials at the organisation's HQ told him not to use the drone, and advised him to sell the device but he ignored them.

He has now set up a rival operation at the same beach with other men in their 70s - calling the breakaway group Coastwatch Wales.

Former ambulance worker Mr Humberstone said the drone was bought from charity donations to help the men in their duties but officials did not approve of the device.

He said: “They were horrified. I think they thought we were too old to be ‘boy racers’. They didn't like the idea we had a drone and I was instructed to sell it.

“I said: ‘It’s not ours to sell. It’s been purchased by the kindness of the public. In particular one was the sister of one of the Nicola Faith fishing boat crew. It's a fairly sophisticated piece of kit.”

John Humberstone
John Humberstone

Mr Humberstone said the drone had eight cameras and was capable of manoeuvring past cliffs and rock edges.

He said: “It’s also equipped with a public address system so we can talk - live - through a twin speaker on the front. It has an announcement siren and it can pre-record up to five messages.

“It’s also got lights so you can use it at night if you’re searching for someone.

“It’s proved very effective and got people off sandbanks in good time.

“People have almost drowned and thank goodness for the sharp eyes of some of our watch keepers and the quickness of the Conwy lifeboat to get to the scene and save the day.”

Mr Humberstone was suspended from his position in August but he and other members found the situation “intolerable” so they formed their own group.

Twelve of the original 15 members from the NCI group are now working for Coastwales Wales and installed Mr Humberstone as station manager.

Phil Styles, secretary and trustee of the National Coastwatch Institution Board, said: “Following a serious disregard of NCI rules/regulations, the NCI Great Orme station manager John Humberstone was suspended pending further investigation.

“During the investigation period, Mr Humberstone decided to set up a separate lookout further down the coastline thus removing himself and some of his colleagues from the NCI organisation.”