An 85-year-old man was found miles from his nursing home more than 24 hours after he first went missing, having survived the night trapped in a 15ft-deep ditch
The family of Joseph Hughes, who has dementia, have thanked the emergency services and public after he was found safe and alive.
Mr Hughes left his nursing home in Porthcawl at around 12.50pm on Saturday, August 14, leaving his family frantic as they tried to trace his steps.
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A huge search effort commenced as soon as the alarm was raised, including help from the RNLI, various emergency services and the local community. However, hope diminished when Joseph still hadn’t been found by Sunday morning.
Luckily Mr Hughes was eventually found alive that afternoon, in a ditch near Newton Nottage roundabout. His family said it was thanks to the amazing community and emergency effort as well as one woman’s intuition that he was discovered.
Mr Hughes’ daughter-in-law, Linda Hughes, said: “Joseph lived in Coventry until a few months ago when he had an incident at home where he went missing. We were shocked at that so we moved him locally to a care home in Porthcawl. He has been in his new care home for about six weeks and they’ve been fabulous with him and settled him in well.
“Somehow – and they’re still investigating how – he left the care home on Saturday. He’s a master of escape.”
Linda said they had been alerted of his disappearance when her husband and Mr Hughes’ son, Martin, had planned to visit him at around 1pm on Saturday.
“My husband was in Porthcawl and called the care home to say he would be popping around,” she said. “But when he got there, they couldn’t find him. Then on CCTV they saw he had actually left the building at about 12.50pm. They alerted all the services and that’s when the search began. At first my husband and I were just rushing around hoping we’d find him around the next corner, but we couldn’t.”
A police helicopter helping in the search for Joseph Hughes
(Image: Linda Hughes)
Linda said that in their panic, she and her husband were immediately struck by the incredible efforts of the local community and emergency services who were all working together to try and find Mr Hughes.
She said: “The services were incredible as well as the support from Porthcawl. The effort, the support, the compassion was just outstanding. Any contact from any member of the emergency services was supportive. Joseph wasn’t the only priority, but it felt like he was. Everyone was rooting for him.
“The RNLI were involved as well as the coastal search team. There were men from the rescue teams searching the grounds, the cliff tops and the town. Porthcawl was live with the public and police all trying desperately to find him before he came to any harm. What we didn’t know at that point was that Joseph was probably already in a ditch.”
Linda said CCTV showed Mr Hughes leaving the care home before walking down the main road in Porthcawl along the promenade. She said her first instinct was that he might be in the shopping area. She said she went into every shop and stopped anyone she saw to try and spread the word further, but unfortunately nobody seemed to know where he might be.
She said that although he had dementia, he probably wouldn’t have stuck out as someone in distress, since he was able to be rational and reasonable and probably believed he was just out on an innocent walk.
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As Saturday evening drew to a close, Linda said she and Martin started to get very concerned about the welfare of Mr Hughes.
She said: “The search teams worked all the way through until 1am in the morning. My husband and I were so exhausted, we didn’t know what to do next as we were just retracing our steps. Around then, the services decided to reduce their search and go on notification of anyone who knew where he was. It was difficult in the dark and we had no leads from anyone who had seen him.
“It was so painful as the night went on, it was heartbreaking to know someone you love is out there in the dark, completely lost and absolutely terrified with no hope of getting back out again. We got home and stayed up worrying, then my husband started again at 7am the next morning and the search resumed.
“The police were amazing, stopping us whenever they saw us and keeping us updated with who was in charge. The care home was amazing as well. They were absolutely distraught, they called in extra staff who weren’t working that day while care staff searched in their own time. Then a lot of the staff were searching with their families in the evening.”
She said that as the search continued, there were still no answers through most of Sunday. Police uncovered CCTV after door knocking in the area and found he had been walking in the opposite direction from where the family first thought, but they were still none the wiser as to where he could be.
“Me and my husband were so exhausted at around 5pm or 6pm on Sunday. I was in tears saying I don’t think he can stand another night out there and we’d had nothing positive to tell us where he is. We were just about to discuss what we were going to do next and sat on a bench. Then, we got the call to say he’d been found.”
Linda said they were concerned it might have been bad news, that Mr Hughes had maybe been found dead or injured, but luckily he was alive and responsive. She said she was “astounded” when she learnt how her father-in-law had been discovered.
She explained: “We were told on Saturday night that the search and rescue [police] crew couldn’t get the helicopter out from Saint Athan because there had been a mechanical fault. The helicopter came from Exeter instead.
“A lady called Amy who works with the search and rescue helicopters at Saint Athan actually found him. She was off duty on Sunday and she said she couldn’t sleep all Saturday night because she had Joseph on her mind as they couldn’t get the helicopter out.
“When she woke up on Sunday, she told her husband and two young children she needed to get out and couldn’t rest until he was found. She lives in Cardiff and drove all the way to Porthcawl, and with her knowledge of where someone might go and her knowledge of the area, she decided to search on her bicycle where she thought he might be. She said she got drawn to where he was. I called her Amy the Angel, because I think she was.”
Linda said Amy hadn’t seen or heard Mr Hughes, but that she simply felt he might be in that area due to everything she knew at that point. She shouted for him and heard a noise and knew he was there, Linda said.
“The area is densely covered with trees and bracken and he had fallen straight through it all. It was about 15 to 16 foot deep,” Linda said. “You couldn’t see him in there and nobody walks along that path. We’d driven up and down that path numerous times and we didn’t see anything to suggest there was any movement and nobody had sighted him there. I firmly believe if he had been there another night, we wouldn’t have Joseph here today. He’d not eaten or drank anything since 1pm the previous day and he wasn’t dressed for lying outside, he had trousers and a T-shirt on.”
Linda said that when the police and other emergency services were called to his aid, they continued to show him the respect he deserved.
A picture released by South Wales Police to assist them during the search
(Image: South Wales Police)
“He’s a fabulous father-in-law, a fabulous guy and he’s been a great grandad. He has lost a lot of his ability with his mental state because of the dementia and everybody involved treated him with such respect.
“For nearly four hours, police officers were lying on their tummies securing him so he didn’t injure himself when they moved him and they must have ached, but they were positive and friendly, joking and encouraging him. He was complaining of pain in his neck and pain in his hips so they were securing him in case he had any breaks. Luckily both scans at the hospital came back as negative.”
Linda said Mr Hughes stayed at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend overnight on Sunday and was “relatively unscathed” apart from some scrapes and dehydration. She said he was now back and settled at his care home, much to the relief of all his carers.
Linda added: “It’s an incredible journey we’ve been on and we’re full of relief, but we’re astounded by the care and the compassion that everybody gave Joseph, particularly Amy, who was there just because she felt she had a duty of care.”
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