Lifeboat crew called out to find Canoe Man John Darwin detail 14-hour search for conman

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An ITV series has been made about John Darwin’s faked death and subsequent fraud as a crew member of the lifeboat has told how they felt when he turned up years later

The lifeboat crew spent 14 hours searching for the conman
The lifeboat crew spent 14 hours searching for the conman

A lifeboat crew called out to find Canoe Man John Darwin have given details of the 14-hour search for conman.

Two RNLI lifeboats led the initial search after Darwin now 71, went missing following a paddle out to sea.

A massive rescue effort scoured the waters 2.5 miles out into the open water and coastline.

nothing was found in the extensive search until his wrecked canoe was discovered a week later.

Now as an ITV series is made about his faked death and subsequent fraud, one member of the lifeboat in Redcar crew has told how they felt when Darwin turned up years later.







John Darwin in Seaton Carew
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Image:

gazettelive.co.uk)

Mike Picknett, senior helm during the search for John Darwin is now lifeboat operations manager at Redcar RNLI, remembers it well.

He told TeessideLive: “This was a very unusual shout for the RNLI.

“We found no trace of John Darwin and once the search was called off, we assumed that he had drowned.

“We were astounded when he turned up all those years later.

“When I look back at what happened I am fascinated by the whole story, but at the time our focus was on finding a missing person.

“Our primary aim is to save lives at sea and prevent people from drowning. If we are told someone is missing off our coast, we will do all we can to help find them. It’s what we do.

“When I look back at what happened I am fascinated by the whole story, but at the time our focus was on finding a missing person.

“Our primary aim is to save lives at sea and prevent people from drowning. If we are told someone is missing off our coast, we will do all we can to help find them. It’s what we do.”

Redcar RNLI’s volunteer crew were paged at 1.19am on the morning on March 21, 2002, signaling what turned out to be a massive search off the Teesside coast.

They were informed their task was to look for a man who had left Seaton Carew beach at 8am the previous morning in a canoe and all lifeboats were assigned areas to search by the coastguard, setting about their tasks in the dark.

Sea conditions were calm, remember the crew.

Both Redcar lifeboats combed the area between North Gare and Staithes and 2.5 miles out to sea in an initial search that lasted just over 14 hours until 2.30pm.

Some searched at sea whilst some crew members carried out an extensive search along the beach between Redcar and South Gare. Nothing was found that could be linked to the missing person.

A week later on March 29, 2002, both Redcar Lifeboats were launched again in response to a report that a damaged kayak had been spotted near to Teesdock.

The area was searched but once more nothing was found and the following day Redcar RNLI launched again.

A spring tide and low water meant that a more detailed search around the piers and jetties of the river Tees could be carried out.

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A damaged kayak was recovered from underneath a pier at South Bank and handed over to the police and the search terminated at 1.30pm March 30, 2002.

As detailed on the ITV drama, Darwin, now 71, hid out in the house next door to his wife Anne in Seaton Carew whilst the couple claimed his life insurance.

They then headed for a new life in Panama – until John turned up at a London police station claiming amnesia.

The lie was revealed when a photo was found showing the pair at an estate agent’s office in Panama and the couple was jailed for fraud.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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