Runner who fell into canal praises RNLI Float To Live advice

Lifeboats News Release

A woman from Blackburn has credited an RNLI advert, which advises anyone who finds themselves unexpectedly in cold water to ‘float to live’, with saving her life after she fell into a canal while out running

Agnieszka Kwiecien, who is originally from Poland and has lived in Blackburn for the past 10 years, was out for her regular Sunday run along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near her home when she lost her footing while trying to avoid a large puddle and fell into the water.

Agnieszka, known as Aggie, who runs her own Polish translation business, said:

‘It all happened in what felt like slow motion, even though it must have been a fraction of a second. As I felt myself go, I heard a calm voice in my head saying, ‘OK, you know what to do. You fell into the canal, you mustn't panic, you're going to surface to the water and just relax’. That’s exactly what I did.’

Respect the Water is the RNLI’s national drowning prevention campaign, which highlights the risk of ‘cold water shock’. Its key advice if you find yourself suddenly in cold water is to ‘Float to Live’; fighting the instinct to panic and lying back until you can catch your breath. Aggie recalls seeing the campaign advert on TV while watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off last year. She adds:

‘It was probably a year since I saw the advert but it was really ingrained in my memory. In that split-second, I was prepared what to do. The narration was clear in my head, in English, saying when you fall in you've got a few seconds to do the right thing and resist the urge to panic and thrash around, because that's what might cause you to drown. You have to try and relax and float. I had the image of people falling into the water and floating and I really remembered it.’

After catching her breath, Aggie was able to call out for help and alerted a group of passers-by, who helped to pull her out of the canal and wrapped her in a blanket before helping her get home to her fiancé, a warm shower and some dry clothes. Fortunately, she did not suffer any injuries or need medical help but has been left shaken by the experience.

With the government’s current lockdown restrictions allowing people in England to take unlimited exercise outdoors on their own or with one other person, the RNLI is urging others to take heed of the advice.

Chris Cousens, RNLI Water Safety Lead, says annual coastal fatality figures reveal over half (55%) of those who died at the coast in 2018 ended up in the water unexpectedly – a figure that has remained consistent in recent years. Chris says:

‘Aggie’s story really does prove the charity’s Float to Live advice is just as relevant inland as it is on the coast. Coastal fatality figures sadly show that many of those who lose their lives did not plan on entering the water. Slips, trips and falls can catch people unaware while out running or walking. Knowing what to do if you fall into cold water, whether inland or at the coast, can be the difference between life and death.

‘The instinctive human reaction when you fall into cold water can cause panic and gasping for breath, increasing the chances of breathing in water. Although it’s counterintuitive, the best immediate course of action is to fight your instinct and float on your back. More tragic water-related deaths can be avoided by knowing the risks and remembering the Float technique, just as Aggie did.

‘Hearing how Aggie recalled the Float to Live message really is heartening and with people taking the opportunity to exercise during lockdown, this serves as a timely reminder to anyone walking or running by water to take care and remember what to do should they get into trouble.’

Notes To Editors

Please find attached video footage of Aggie talking about the incident. Also attached is the RNLI's Float to Live advert.

RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Relations Manager for Wales and the West on 07786 668829

Matthew Ainsworth

Agnieszka Kwiecien

Matthew Ainsworth

Whitebirk Railway Bridge where Aggie fell into the canal whilst running

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.

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