SOUTHEND’S RNLI hovercraft crew has been given an award for a daring rescue on a cold, dark winter night.

Three members of the hovercraft crew were presented with a framed letter of thanks from RNLI headquarters, at the lifeboat station’s annual dinner at the Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff.

Hovercraft commander Michael Whistler, pilot Dave Brown and crew member Adam Manning rescued three people, a woman who had jumped off Southend Pier, and two others who had dived in to help her.

The rescue, in December 2012, was carried out in neardarkness and high winds and was described as a difficult operation .

Mr Whistler said: “With a hovercraft, you are very restricted on weather conditions in which you can go out in.

“We were right on the limits that night. The hovercraft is a lively thing with a mind of its own.

“A chap had gone in to help the lady and another person went in as well, so there were three people in the water. It was getting dark and there were lots of life rings in the water which people had thrown in.

“They all have fluorescent strips, so it was difficult trying to work out who was where.”

Mr Whistler said his crew were glad to receive the award, adding: “It was very pleasing. The whole crew did very well that night, including the pilot.

“It isn’t easy when you are sitting on a ball of air being blown about by the wind, trying to steer.”

The crew was presented with the framed letter of thanks by senior RNLI official David Shepherd.

A spokesman for the rescue charity said: “The situation was made more difficult because of the darkness and weather conditions.

“One person was pulled out of the water by a lifeboat crew member on the pier, having made it to the pier slipway.

“The hovercraft crew searched with spotlights, located the other two casualties together, picking them up and making best speed back to the inshore boathouse, where they were met by awaiting paramedics and taken to hospital, suffering from hypothermia.”