RNLI lifeguard to be recognised for courageous rescue which saved woman's life

Lifeguards Media Invite

RNLI Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger has been selected to receive the charity’s Alison Saunders Lifeguarding Award for his heroic actions last summer, when he risked his own life to save body boarder, Mary Harkin, who was in trouble at Croyde Beach, North Devon.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

RNLI Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger.

The Alison Saunders Lifeguarding Award is made annually by the Trustees of the RNLI, for the most meritorious rescue by RNLI lifeguards during the previous season. It was created in 2009 and is sponsored by Alison Saunders, a former Deputy Chair of the Institution. Alison Saunders was the first woman to be appointed to the Trustee Committee, and served on the RNLI Council from 1985 to 2009. She was deputy chair from 2004 to 2009.

The 2016 award has been made to Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger for his bravery, presence of mind, skill and determination during the rescue which took place on 8 August 2016.

It was sunny with a brisk north-westerly wind and a 5-6ft challenging ‘messy’ surf, with rip currents on both sides of the lifeguard patrolled zone. Croyde is a wide, sandy beach popular with both swimmers and surfers, as it’s considered one of the best surfing beaches in the UK.

At 4.00pm lifeguard Sean Deasy was actively patrolling the rip currents on the Rescue Water Craft (RWC). At 4.30pm Freddie Hedger joined Sean on a water patrol using a rescue board, making his way to the southern end of the rip current to enter the water. On his way out he teamed up with Sean to help move a group of novice surfers who were drifting out of the black and white flags into the rip current.

It was at this point that Freddie became aware of a surfer and body boarder further out to sea, both of whom appeared to be in difficulty, so he immediately informed Sean who made his way out on the RWC followed by Freddie on the paddle board. On arrival it was clear that the surfer was physically struggling with the difficult conditions and was frightened, having stopped helping the body boarder who was in serious trouble. Sean was unable to rescue Mary, the body boarder, as he couldn’t get close enough with the RWC due to the large surf, which was breaking heavily on the sand bank at this point.

Freddie made the decision to leave his rescue board and swim towards Mary. When he got to her, she was face down in the water and unconscious. He lifted her face out of the water so she could breathe and worked hard to protect her from the waves breaking over them. Sean witnessed them both get dragged under by a wave, disappearing from sight in the turbulent water. He made further attempts to assist Freddie with the rescue, but was hampered by the waves and undertows. With a break in the waves, he was finally able to make a move to rescue them both.

Despite being exhausted, Freddie managed to grab the handle of the rescue sled on the RWC with one hand. Using his other to keep the Mary’s head above water, he signalled to Sean to drag them towards the shore as he tried to keep them afloat. They were towed about 10m before Freddie could hold on no more due to being almost completely exhausted. Fortunately they were now closer to the beach so he was able to stand in the water.

Lifeguard Jack Middleton had seen the events from the shore so met Sean and Freddie at the shoreline with the casualty care kit. Once ashore the casualty, who was barely conscious, began vomiting and was clearly in a bad way. Both an ambulance and coastguard helicopter were called to the beach and Freddie’s presence of mind and leadership were crucial in helping the other emergency services with the rescue.

Freddie stayed with Mary as she was taken to the top of the beach, where she was given casualty care by the RNLI lifeguards before being handed over to the ambulance crew and spent a night recovering in hospital. The surfer managed to get himself back to the safety of the beach and went straight to the lifeguard unit to find out how Mary was.

Mary has since completed a sponsored cycle ride with two friends from her home in London back to Croyde beach as a way of thanking the lifeguards who saved her life that day. So far the trio have raised over £4,000 for the RNLI.

Mary said: ‘I can’t put into words how much the RNLI mean to me. The team at Croyde are selfless, incredibly brave and highly skilled. Last summer, they put their lives on the line for me and if wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here today. The lifeguards should get the recognition and support they deserve for the work they do.’

The surfer involved in the rescue, Fraser Gibb, said: ‘As for Freddie’s efforts, it’s hard to describe just how grateful I am that he managed to get out there. I’ve described to many others many times now how I was in awe of his swimming ability as the conditions had changed quickly and it was extremely difficult to control myself, let alone keep someone else afloat…if Freddie hadn’t swam out there like he did and didn’t give up until he had her, it would have been a very different story.’

Freddie will be presented with the award on 24 August by Alison Saunders and joined by the rest of the lifeguard team who helped with the rescue.

Notes to editors

  • It should be noted that RNLI lifeguards are expected to operate in difficult and often dangerous conditions as a matter of course. By the nature of their role they are in the water, often at considerable risk to their own safety. Whilst they have the benefit of the rescue water craft and buoyancy aids, these can be of limited use in certain circumstances and many rescues are the result of the skill, determination and bravery of individuals. Only rescues that have displayed these traits to a very high degree are recognised by the RNLI and, in this case, Freddie Hedger is being recognised by the award of a Framed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman of the Institution and an Alison Saunders Lifeguarding Award. The latter recognises acts of outstanding skill and bravery.
  • The award ceremony will take place on Thursday 24 August at 4pm in Café@Ruda, Ruda Holiday Park, Croyde Bay, Devon, EX33 1NP.
  • Parkdean Resorts make a significant contribution towards the lifeguard provision at Croyde beach, helping to make the beach a safe place to enjoy.
  • Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger and Lifeguard Supervisors Matthew Whitley and Vaughan Lawson will be available for interviews.

The enclosed photos show:

  • RNLI Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger. Please credit RNLI/Jade Dyer.
  • Mary Harkins, Lisa Forrest and Ingrid Hass meet a lifeguard team on their arrival at Croyde. Please note these are not the lifeguards involved in last year’s rescue. Please credit RNLI/Phil Hill.
  • The conditions at Croyde beach at the time of the incident. Please credit HM Coastguard.
  • Freddie Hedger and Mary Harkins meet after her recovery. Please credit RNLI.

RNLI media contacts

For further information, please contact either Jade Dyer, RNLI Communications Student Placement, on 01752 844485 or email jade_dyer@rnli.org.uk . You can also contact RNLI Public Relations Manager Amy Caldwell on 01752 854450 or by emailing Amy_Caldwell@rnli.org.uk .


Freddie Hedger and Mary Harkins meet after her recovery.

RNLI/Phil Hill

Lisa Forrest, Ingrid Hass and Mary Harkin meet a lifeguard team on their arrival at Croyde. Please note these are not the lifeguards involved in last year’s rescue.

RNLI/HM Coastguard

The conditions at Croyde beach at the time of the incident.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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