A COUPLE whose boat exploded and caught fire on the river at Henley have thanked those who came to their rescue on the fifth anniversary of their ordeal.
Duncan Lamb suffered second-degree burns to his legs when flames up to four metres high ripped through his £8,000 motor boat, leaving it completely destroyed.
His wife Olivia was rushed to hospital less than 48 hours later when she went into labour three weeks early with their daughter, Sophia.
The drama unfolded in front of hundreds of people who had turned out to enjoy the sunny afternoon.
Mr and Mrs Lamb, who were living in Ancastle Green at the time, were preparing to take their 26ft cabin cruiser along the Thames after lunch on May 24, 2009.
Mr Lamb, 43, boarded Hedda, which was moored outside Hobbs boatyard on the Wargrave Road, to start the engine and remove the canopy. His heavily pregnant wife and her parents, Jackie and Nigel, were standing nearby.
Speaking exclusively to the Henley Standard Mr Lamb said: “The engine just didn’t sound right. I went down to the main cabin to listen to it. I turned around to walk out and it exploded. The floor of the boat literally blew up exposing the engine so there was no floor.
“The blast of the explosion shut the doors and trapped me inside. I jumped across the gap and opened the doors. I ran out to the back of the boat and jumped off onto the grass where the family were all stood.
“It was just instinct — I thought ‘just get out’. I was wearing shorts and from my ankles to my knees were alight. It was the hair that was burning more than the skin.
“If I was a cat I’d certainly only have eight lives left and without some of those people you don’t know what could have happened or how bad the injuries could have been.”
Mrs Lamb, 42, said: “He jumped off. My dad got him on the floor and rolled him around to get his legs to stop burning but my husband was obviously in a lot of pain. We realised something was seriously wrong and Duncan was hurt but we all mucked in.”
Mr Lamb’s legs were wrapped in cling film to protect them from pain and infection. He said: “There’s no question I was in shock. When I was actually on fire there was no notice of any pain. I think it was when I was in the ambulance I realised how painful it was.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene to tackle the blaze and Mrs Lamb added: “All the emergency services were very quick and brilliant.”
Employees of Hobbs boatyard helped stop the fire spreading by towing away nearby boats and pushing the flaming craft against the jetty while firefighters put the flames out.
Among the crowds watching the drama unfold was Ollie Johnson of Sonning Common, a former Hobbs employee, who was nearby working on his own boat. He and Steve Brown, of Lovell Close, Henley rushed to help Mr Lamb out of the boat and set off an extinguisher to try and stop the blaze spreading. The flames burnt away the boat’s moorings, setting it adrift.
Mr Brown contacted Dominic Hook, skipper of the Hobbs’ Waterman, who jumped on to a boat with crewman James Maudlin. They worked to drag the other boats away. Two firefighters then got into their boat which pulled up right in front of the flaming vessel, so that a rope could be put around its handrail and keep it pinned to the side.
A nearby Thames river boat suffered damage to its canopy but was later repaired.
Mr Lamb, a corporate finance advisor, was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where he was treated by a burns specialist.
His skin was covered with special pads that were changed daily, but despite this he said it healed incredibly quickly.
He was sent home a few hours later and given liquid morphine to keep the pain at bay. He had to return every day to the hospital to have his bandages changed for around a fortnight.
Doctors warned him not to drive but the next day he had to ignore their advice when his wife suddenly went into labour.
Mrs Lamb was due to give birth around June 12 but at lunchtime on the Monday she felt contractions and rang the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
“I told them I’d had a shock. Their words were, ‘shock doesn’t bring on labour’.”
But the hospital later called back asking her to come in as a precaution, and at 12.20am on the Tuesday she gave birth to Sophia by emergency Caesarean section.
She said “For it to happen the following day is too much of a co-incidence. I think it must have played a big part. You have probably one of the worst things that happens to you and then the best thing that happens to you.”
Mr Lamb added: “I was thinking not about me, my pain. I was thinking more of Olivia and Sophia being OK.
“I think there’s a huge amount of emotion at the time for all sorts of reasons. All those sort of things that are very emotional — shock, pain, labour, having a wonderful new daughter — all crammed into a 48-hour period. It was a highly emotional couple of days.”
The couple, who now live in Makins Road, said they would explain to their daughter the circumstances of her birth properly when she was older.
Mr Lamb has since made a full recovery but said: “It’s taken a number of years. When I go in the sun I have to put sun block on my legs otherwise they burn. Even now five years later if I don’t protect them they are susceptible to damage.
“It’s still an incredibly vivid memory and that won’t go away.”
The couple thanked those who rushed to the scene at the time along with Mr Johnson, Mr Brown, staff at Hobbs as well as firefighters, the ambulance service and the nearby sea cadets.
They praised the boat’s co-owners Bill and Jacinta Ford, of Reading Road, Henley, who took Mr Lamb to hospital on several occasions.
Mr Lamb added: “Sometimes you just don’t even know who to thank because you get carted off in an ambulance and you don’t get a chance to say thank you at the time.”
Mrs Lamb said: “Every year I thought about writing to the Henley Standard. This year because it’s been five years I was determined I was going to get in touch with the paper. People acted not just for us but other people and other people’s property and it’s making sure they realise we do appreciate what they did for us that day.
“We think about it every year with the anniversary but it’s like any sort of shock or drama, you eventually have to move on.”