Remembering three Doncaster pals among seven dead in North Sea tragedy

Three Doncaster friends who were among seven people who died in a North Sea tragedy have been remembered nearly 40 years on from the disaster.
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On the morning of 7 May, 1984, the trio of Doncaster fishermen were among seven people who died in the seas off Bridlington after two boats were swamped in high seas.

Brian Priestley, David Bunting and Stephen Burton, who all came from the town, all drowned when the boat they were angling from was hit by a freak wave as they joined in a rescue to search for another boat that had also been overcome by the seas.

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Four men aboard the fishing coble Carol Sandra also died on that fateful day - one of the darkest in the history of the East Coast.

Brian Priestley and David Bunting were among seven men who died in the tragedy.Brian Priestley and David Bunting were among seven men who died in the tragedy.
Brian Priestley and David Bunting were among seven men who died in the tragedy.

Here's the full tragic story of how events unfolded on that awful day more than three decades ago...

Carol Sandra, a trawler, had left Bridlington harbour on the morning of Bank Holiday Monday. The weather was fair - but the winds were picking up and by the time the crew were at sea, the waters had turned extremely rough, with waves up to fifteen feet in height.

The crew had headed out to move their crab pots into deeper water to stop them being smashed by the increasingly rough seas.

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The men onboard were skipper Peter Brigham, 29 and a Flamborough lifeboat crew member, his father Guy Brigham, 62, George Gray, 19, and Barrie Shilton, 48.

It is unclear what happened to the boat or at what time - as no one saw the boat struggling or the crew perish. No mayday call was sent and no flares were fired.

Just before noon, reports came in of a bow sticking out of the water and the Flamborough lifeboat was launched and was on the scene rapidly.

More vessels joined the search for the Carol Sandra - and amongst them was a fishing boat called North Wind III.

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The boat had been on an angling trip with five members of the East Midlands Gas fishing party, who were all from Doncaster.

About four hours after the initial call, one of the men aboard North Wind III spotted an object in the water.

As the boat went to investigate, it was hit by a large wave, washing the five anglers overboard. Another large wave capsized the vessel leaving the skipper Palmer Cockerill and his son David trapped underneath.

They found and air pocket and remained trapped for nearly 20 minutes until the boat was driven ashore.

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A helicopter called in to search for the Carol Sandra had responded to calls for help from North Wind III.

The winchman Dave Allen had recovered one man from the water and landed him on the Filey Lifeboat - although Mr Allen was injured in the rescue and had to be taken to hospital. Another survivor managed to cling to the winch without a winchman and was landed on the cliff top.

David Bunting, 22, of Armthorpe, Stephen Burton, 24 of Warmsworth, and Charles Priestley, 26, of Bessacarr, known as Brian, were all lost however.

The search for the missing men continued until night and started up again at first light the next morning.

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The bodies of Barrie Shilton, Stephen Burton and Peter Brigham were eventually recovered. Tragically, the others were never found.

The four survivors were Alan Sutcliffe of Skellow, Roger Mokryj of Kirk Sandall and Palmer and David Cockerill, both of Bridlington.

Janet Cockerill, daughter of Palmer, the skipper of North Wind III told newspapers at the time: "The seas came from nowhere. They were freak weather conditions. My father was shocked - he just couldn't understand it."


An inquest returned misadventure verdicts on the seven who died.

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RAF winchman David Allen was honoured with the Queen's Commendation for valuable service for his part in the rescue. Mr Allen, 36, received serious injuries while recovering Alan Sutcliffe from the water.

A memorial service was held in Flamborough on May 27. More than 500 mourners attended the service including grieving relatives of the crew of the Carol Sandra and coachloads of friends and relatives of the Doncaster trio.

Wreckage from the two boat was collected and burnt and the ashes scattered in the North Sea.

A memorial fund, which raised more than £7,500 was partly used towards the cost of a permanent memorial in Flamborough.