RNLI lifeguard saves swimmer swept out to sea while on honeymoon in India
An off duty RNLI lifeguard on his dream honeymoon in India sprang into action to save a man swept off his feet and dragged out to sea by strong currents.
Welsh lifeguard Phil Blackwood is used to keeping people safe on the beaches of Ceredigion as part of the RNLI’s seasonal lifeguard service in the county. But the charity’s rescue training came in useful more than 5,000 miles away when an early morning surf on Varkala Beach in Kerala, Southern India, turned into a critical sea rescue.
Phil, who was on honeymoon following his recent marriage to fellow RNLI lifeguard Anna Clements, was alerted to the man in difficulty at the northern end of the 1.8km beach by the whistle of a local lifeguard. There was strong currents running in the water and the swimmer had been knocked off his feet and swept out beyond the large breaking waves.
The swimmer, a 35-year-old Russian man called Michail Sukachev, was floating on his back and initially appeared to ignore the whistles, but when Phil paddled to him he was clearly distressed and started calling for help.
Michail could not speak good English so was unable to explain to Phil he could not swim as had reduced movement down his left side following an accident 14 years ago. Phil suspected he might have a fresh spinal injury, so stabilised him and kept him afloat using his surfboard.
The pair were in danger of being swept into a neighbouring rocky cove, so Phil paddled as best he could with Michail on his small surfboard back towards the beach, wary not to get pushed toward the cliff in between.
Soon after local lifeguards arrived with a surf rescue board and attempted to paddle Michail back to shore. But they were struggling to make headway so Phil offered to take over, negotiating the breaking waves with Michail on the board to return him to the beach.
Phil said: ‘At this point I was still concerned for his spine so was determined not to lose him in the waves. Fortunately only one wave crashed onto us and between me dangling off the back and the lifeguard catching the nose of the board we got him in unscathed.
‘When we returned to the beach a large crowd had gathered, including Michail’s wife and one-year-old son who were obviously delighted to see him safe.’
Michail and his family later met Phil and Anna and were able to thank Phil for what he had done.
Describing what happened to him, he said: ‘I was enjoying the water and the sunshine but then some big waves came and knocked me off my feet.
‘After a while I could no longer feel the bottom, it had gone and I knew I couldn't swim so I was in big trouble and began to panic. I started to shout and wave but I began sinking. I tried waving for help and shouting but every time I try something I began to go under.
‘Then I saw the surfer was coming towards me and at first thought he was not going to help, then he gave me his board to hold and I grabbed his hand. Then I began to relax and I knew I was saved. Other lifeguards came and they took me back to my wife and family on the beach. Without them I do not know what would have happened that day, they are my saviours.’
Phil also wanted to draw attention to the plight of the six local lifeguards working on Varkala Beach with just three tubes and one rescue board for lifesaving equipment.
‘They do not have radios, binoculars, fins, surf craft or any of the equipment we take for granted as lifeguards in the UK,’ he said.
‘But they still do an incredible job. In this case the whistle which I heard was the key factor in reaching Michail in time before he had been swept further north under the cliffs and in more serious danger. The first lifeguard who reached us said he saves around 70 people a year from the water.’
Michael Vincent, RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor, said: ‘All RNLI lifeguards receive full rescue and first aid training, but I’ve never heard of it being put into good use on honeymoon before. This incident just goes to show that our lifeguards training makes them ready to respond whenever the need arises. We look forward to having Phil as part of our Ceredigion lifeguard team again this summer.’
Notes to editors:
The attached pictures show:
- RNLI lifeguard Phil Blackwood (left) and Michail Sukachev, who he saved from the sea while on honeymoon at Varkala Beach, Kerala, Southern India.
- RNLI lifeguard Phil Blackwood praised the work of the local lifeguards on Varkala Beach, some of whom rescue 70 people a year from the water with only basic equipment.
RNLI beach lifeguards receive world class training in search and rescue, lifesaving and casualty care techniques, so that they have the skills to draw on if someone’s life is in danger. If you want to help the charity keep people safe on beaches and save lives this summer then you can apply to be a beach lifeguard here www.rnli.org.uk/workonthebeach
For more information please contact Chris Cousens, RNLI Press Officer, Wales and West, on 07748 265496 or 01745 55162 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.