‘I thought I’d lost him.’ Survivors and their families thank RNLI lifesavers

Lifeboats News Release

‘I thought I’d lost him. I didn’t think he was coming back.’ These are the emotional words of the wife of just one of the many people whose lives have been saved by the RNLI this year, as the charity releases emotional video of survivors thanking their lifesavers and wishing them a merry Christmas

As Coronavirus restrictions have prevented those who are rescued by the RNLI from visiting lifeboat stations or lifeguard units to thank their lifesavers in person, 13 survivors have recorded emotional and hard-hitting video messages of thanks to show their appreciation.

From an 18-year-old surfer in the USA, to the wife and children of a man who thought they’d lost their husband and father to the sea, the messages highlight how so many people are only able to celebrate Christmas this year because the RNLI was there to save them. The moving video is released as the charity appeals for the public’s support to help them keep saving lives this Christmas.

Ben and Hannah Williamson from Manchester were visiting Perran Sands in Cornwall this summer with their three young children. Towards the end of their holiday, Ben headed out for one last bodyboarding session when he was caught in a rip current.

Hannah and her three young children watched on in horror from the beach as the St Agnes lifeboat crew and local coastguard searched for Ben in the water. Two local beach visitors went to help Ben but were also caught in the current.

The St Agnes RNLI crew raced to the incident and pulled the three casualties into the lifeboat. Ben, Hannah and their children were reunited with hugs on the beach.

In their thank you message to the RNLI, Hannah said: ‘I can’t even begin to think of what life would’ve been like without Ben so we’re going to make sure we have a good Christmas this year.’

Survivor Ben said: ‘The fact that the RNLI is a charity just shows how special the volunteers and lifeguards are. They go out and put their lives on the line so I just urge anyone to donate whatever they can to the RNLI to help keep families like ours together.’

When asked what she would say to the RNLI crew members that saved Ben, their young daughter Megan said: ‘Thank you for rescuing my daddy.’

Jack Lyons, 18, a surfer from New York, USA, has sent a special video message to thank the volunteer crew at Porthcawl RNLI who saved him. In January, Jack was caught out by rough sea conditions including waves as high as two metres and a thick sea fog.

The Porthcawl RNLI volunteer crew pulled Jack to safety in a dramatic rescue. This year, he will be back home celebrating Christmas with his family in New York, but things could’ve been very different.

Talking about the day, Jack said: ‘I’m an experienced surfer, but things changed very quickly. I just couldn’t fight the current and could feel myself being pulled under. Seeing the lifeboat coming towards me is a sight I’ll never forget. I am eternally grateful to the crew of Porthcawl. I’m still in touch with them and will always remember what they did for me.

‘At this time of year, more than ever, when family is so important, I will be reflecting on how things could have been very different. Due to the pandemic, this festive period for many will be different, but my family could have been facing a very different Christmas without me.

‘I am aware it has been a difficult time for the RNLI and that’s why I would urge people to get behind their Christmas appeal and give what they can to support these fantastic crews, who put themselves in danger to help others.’

Also offering their gratitude are father and son Mark and Edward Heslehurst, who were rescued in February by Redcar RNLI after they were cut off by the tide in Saltburn.

Time was running out and the rescue needed to be swift as sea levels were rising rapidly and sea temperatures were extremely cold. The crew were keen to get the casualties on the lifeboat as fast as they could.

Keen walker Edward, who has Asperger’s, was nervous about getting into the lifeboat but a crew member was able to reassure him and explain how the rescue would work. In this instance, the trust between the casualties and crew was lifesaving.

In their thank you message to the crew that saved them, Mark said: ‘The cliffs behind us were over 300ft high and we were invisible on both sides. If it wasn’t for the RNLI at Redcar, we wouldn’t be here today.

‘You don’t really think of these people until you need them. If anyone can help or donate in any way, please do so. On behalf of my son and myself, we would like to wish all of those at the RNLI a very merry Christmas.’

RNLI lifesavers continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep people safe as lockdown restrictions eased and people flocked to the coast. As a charity, the RNLI relies on the support of the public to continue saving lives – and that support is needed now more than ever as the charity’s fundraising has taken a huge hit this year.

The lifesaving charity had to spend £1.2M this year to ensure its volunteer lifeboat crews and beach lifeguards had the vital PPE, such as face masks and gloves, to keep our lifesavers safe. This was money the charity hadn’t planned to spend, at a time when RNLI shops were forced to close and fundraising events were cancelled.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal visit: RNLI.org/Xmas

Notes to Editor:

  • Interviews with casualties are available on request.
  • Full interview and rescue footage with Ben Williamson and family available for download here.
  • Full interview and rescue footage with surfer Jack Lyons available for download here.
  • Full interview and rescue footage with Mark and Edward Heslehurst available for download here.
  • Further case studies with footage and thank you messages are available.
    For 2020, the RNLI purchased 6.7 million units of coronavirus PPE including almost 700,000 face masks, 2.4 million gloves and just under 5,000 litres of hand sanitiser.

For more information please contact the RNLI National Press Office on 01202 336 789 or [email protected].


Ben and Hannah Williamson with their children thanking the RNLI for rescuing Ben.

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 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.