In extremely difficult conditions, RNLI lifeguards saved Amanda’s life, along with the lives of two other casualties, in a mass rescue of eight people. Two weeks later, Amanda had a virtual reunion with the lifeguards who saved her, to say thank you.
‘I just can’t believe that I nearly lost my life and everything changed in a second. We’d just gone to the beach for a few hours of bodyboarding in the sunshine during the summer holidays and my son could’ve been going home on his own, leaving the beach in Perranporth without his mum. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.’
Amanda was on her annual holiday in Cornwall with her 12-year-old son Ellis and her friend Donna. The three were not far from the shore when Amanda came up from a wave and noticed she was suddenly out of her depth and could not swim against the strong current. Not wanting to alarm her son, Amanda mouthed to Donna that she could not move.
Donna shouted, ‘You need to drop your bodyboard and swim into the current as fast as you can’. But from working on boats in the past, Amanda knew she had to hold on to the floatation device – a decision which lifeguards later said helped save her life.
Ellis began to come out further towards them, but Donna immediately told him to stop. He could still stand up, and so they told him to get out of the water and get help. Donna saw another group of people in difficulty close by and called to them to wave for help too.
Amanda said ‘When we raised our arms and shouted for help, we didn’t know if anyone could see us. We couldn’t see the shore and didn’t even know if my son made it in. Every time a wave dumped down on us, I honestly thought we were going to die’.
‘I saw a hand go up in the ocean.’
RNLI lifeguards James Kirton, George Hudson, Harvey Skinner, and Charlie Florey were at various patrol locations around the beach when they noticed that a flash rip current had quickly developed and a group of people were in serious danger, being dragged out to sea.
James Kirton, the senior lifeguard who rescued Amanda that day, said:
‘If you have a small sandbank collapse, or a large set of waves rolling in, flash rips can suddenly appear which are so unpredictable.’
Lifeguard George Hudson, who was the helm on the inshore rescue boat (IRB), spotted the people in danger.
‘As lifeguards, we rotate between positions around the beach and as I was swapping with someone, I saw a hand go up in the ocean.
‘So Charlie and I launched the IRB and made to get there as quickly as possible’.
The conditions were extremely difficult, with the remnants of Storm Ellen and Kyle creating huge dumping surf and short wave periods, which give lifeguards a limited gap of time to rescue people before another wave arrives.
‘We were the first on scene, and when you’ve got eight people waving for help you’ve got to make a very quick assessment of who to get to first. Luckily, Harvey arrived just after us on the rescue board and was able to pick up a boy who was in danger.’
When the IRB arrived, a few of the casualties - including Amanda - grabbed onto the side of it, thinking they were safe but with the rescue boat about to ‘punch’ through another dumping wave, they were forced to let go for fear it might capsize. The IRB had to manoeuvre back through the surf to get to the casualties safely.
At this point James quickly arrived on the rescue water craft (RWC) and shouted to Amanda that she had to get onto the sled at the back before another wave arrived. Hearing the urgency in his voice, Amanda found the energy to grab on to the handle.
Speaking to Amanda on the video call, James recounted:
‘Because you were drowning, you couldn’t get on properly. You held onto the handle by the seat during the ‘punch’ and managed to get on the sled of the RWC just after. Then I put in a hard turn to get us out of there.’
When she was returned to shore, Amanda could barely move. She was not sure if Ellis and Donna were still in the water, or if they had survived.
‘I sobbed when I saw Ellis - and would like to thank the kind lady on the beach who was talking to him and trying to distract him. The wait for Donna was then the longest ten minutes of my life. I really thought she had died trying to save me.'
As it was a mass rescue, lifeguards told Donna they would be back to get her, but she would be fine if she stayed with the bodyboard. While the lifeguards continued to rescue those in serious danger, Donna held on to the board and eventually drifted out of the rip current and back between the flagged area, at which point George and Charlie in the IRB were able to accompany her back to the sand.
Amanda, Ellis and Donna were all safe on the shore.
‘I just want to say you saved my life and I can never thank you enough.’
After Amanda saw a photo of the rescue online – where her hands are clinging onto the RWC – she got in touch with the RNLI to thank the lifeguard team who saved her. On Friday 4 September, Amanda and Ellis had a reunion on Microsoft Teams with the lifeguards involved.
Having discussed the rescue, Amanda asked if she should have done anything differently, but Charlie said:
‘You did the right thing – you were at a lifeguarded beach, you stayed on your floatation device and you held up your hand for help. If you’re at a lifeguarded beach, we’ll know within seconds that you’re in danger and respond.’
Since the rescue, Amanda and Donna set up a JustGiving page for the RNLI. She is asking her son’s school and swimming class to raise awareness of beach safety (particularly rip currents), as well as urging local businesses to become RNLI ambassadors.
Amanda hopes to return to Perranporth next summer to buy the lifeguards a drink and thank them - in person this time - for rescuing her.
Knowing what to do in a rip current can save your life.
Remember, if you are caught in a rip current:
- If you can stand up, wade into shore
- If you have a floatation device like a bodyboard, keep hold of it
- Don’t try to swim against the rip, you will quickly get exhausted
- Swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore
- Always raise your hand and shout for help
If you see anyone in danger at the coast, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. If you’re at a lifeguarded beach, alert one of the lifeguards.
Notes to editors
- A video and photos are available to download.
- Amanda is available for interviews Thursday and Friday – please get in touch via contact details below to arrange.
- To donate to Amanda and Donna’s fundraiser for the RNLI, please visit:
RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Marianne Quinn, Regional Media Officer on Marianne_Quinn@rnli.org.uk or 07786 668847, or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or via email@example.com.
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, in a normal year, 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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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.