Sunset saviours: The Langland Lifeguards
On the hottest day of 2019, lifeguards at Langland Beach decided to keep watch over the waves – still bursting with beachgoers – hours after their patrol was due to finish. For one swimmer, it was a judgement call that saved her life.
It was a busy summer in Swansea on the last week of July 2019, with blue skies and warm temperatures forecast for days.
Dan Pearson was one of four RNLI lifeguards on patrol at Langland Beach. ‘On Tuesday (23 July) we carried out lots of rescues and ended up staying until 7.30pm,’ Dan recalls. ‘With the weather being so nice, we had to stay late throughout the week.’
Before long, Thursday 25 July was predicted to be the hottest day of the year – so Lifeguard Supervisor Tom John decided to assist the team on their shift in anticipation of a busy day beside the waves.
The start of the swells
As Thursday arrived, the lifeguards were pleasantly surprised by the calm conditions at the beach. But by 5pm, things started to change. ‘The sea suddenly looked like what you’d expect in winter,’ Tom remembers. ‘We put the red flags up, and most people got out of the water. But we spotted a woman entering the sea, outside of our flagged zone, towards the left-hand side of the beach.’
With evening drawing in, the lifeguards needed to wash down their hut and complete end-of-day briefings. Dan stayed at the water’s edge to keep an eye on the conditions – and the woman swimming.
Tom was watching from the hut: ‘We could see the exact moment she got into difficulty,’ he explains. ‘She started doing funny swimming strokes, and that’s all the evidence we need as lifeguards. She was being dragged to where the waves were breaking and was in real trouble.’
Dan ran into the water with a rescue tube, with Tom swiftly behind him with his rescue board.
‘When we got to the swimmer, she had pretty much given up. Her hair was over her face, she was low in the water … if we hadn’t reached her when we did, she wouldn’t have lasted much longer,’ Tom says.
The swimmer was conscious, but utterly exhausted and unable to speak. So Tom helped support her with his board while Dan wrapped the rescue tube around her – all while the waves were breaking on top of them.
‘There’s a lot of urgency in a scenario like this,’ Dan explains. ‘You don’t have a lot of time to plan. All you’re thinking is: “Get her out!”’
‘Your adrenaline’s going as you’re trying to negotiate the waves and keep the casualty safe,’ Tom adds. ‘I was thinking about Dan and how to keep us safe too, because the water was really challenging.’
‘I’ve worked as a lifeguard for 10 years, and this was the busiest and most dangerous I’ve ever seen the beach’
Carried to safety
‘Dan started swimming and I leaned over to help keep the woman afloat,’ Tom says. ‘When we were shallow enough, I ditched the board to help Dan carry her to shore.’
The rest of the lifeguarding team were ready and waiting at the water’s edge. Lifeguard Sam Pritchard had the trauma bag so the team could carry out medical checks and examine if the swimmer needed further treatment. Thankfully, she’d made a lucky escape.
‘She started to become more alert and responsive, and we helped her make her way back up the beach,’ Tom says. ‘She said she was giving up out there. She didn’t have much left.’
More to come
Meanwhile, the beach was still scattered with beachgoers – and the lifeguards’ service was still required. ‘We did 10 more rescues after this one!’ Dan remembers.
‘I’ve worked as a lifeguard for 10 years, and this was the busiest and most dangerous I’ve ever seen the beach,’ Tom admits. ‘We don’t usually get large swells like this during summer. That’s why we always advise not to enter the water when the red flags are flying.’
‘You’re never as strong as the sea’
‘Even when the water looks idyllic, listen to our advice and make sure you’re not pushing yourself – if you don’t feel confident in the conditions, don’t go out,’ he advises.
‘It’s our job to keep you safe. And when we put out red flags, it’s because the water is not safe. You might think you’re the strongest swimmer, but you’re never as strong as the sea. The woman we rescued was a great swimmer and, before she knew it, she was struggling, confused and didn’t know where she was. She wouldn’t have made it much longer.’
Planning a trip to the beach this summer? Make sure you’re headed to a lifeguard beach (which you can check on our beaches page). You can always talk to our lifeguards to get tips and advice on staying safe. Plus, get more advice on our safety pages.