Schoolgirl saved by sister’s safety advice reunited with her RNLI rescuers
A schoolgirl has made an emotional journey this week (Wednesday 24 August) back to where she nearly drowned to thank the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and HM Coastguard search and rescue teams who came to her rescue.
Milena Smith is convinced her eldest daughter Mabel, 12, is only alive today thanks to her quick thinking younger sister Elsie, 10, who frantically shouted instructions to stay calm and float on her back as she was swept out to sea by the tide earlier this month.
Elsie had learned about the RNLI’s Float to Live advice during swimming lessons at school, and her parents are eternally she remembered it when it mattered most during a family holiday to Barmouth, Wales which almost ended in tragedy.
The family returned to Barmouth on Wednesday, ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend and mum Milena said: ‘It was like a scene from a nightmare.
‘One minute the girls, who can swim, were playing in the sea up to their waist, it seemed so lovely and calm. There were lots of people swimming. Very quickly, the girls started heading further and further out and screaming loudly.
‘I can’t swim and just felt so helpless. My husband went in and managed to get to my youngest daughter, who thankfully started to feel sand beneath her feet as she had reached a sandbank, but my eldest Mabel was completely out of sight.
‘I was in such a state of panic. I called 999 and asked for the Coastguard and I have nothing but praise for the call handler who was so calming and helped me to pinpoint exactly where Mabel had entered the water. It was so reassuring to see the lifeboat heading out there.
‘I’m just so grateful Elsie had heard the Float to live advice or our holiday could have ended very differently and it doesn’t bear thinking about.’
HM Coastguard received multiple 999 calls from concerned members of the public reporting three people in the water.
Barmouth RNLI’s inshore lifeboat was immediately launched along with Aberdovey coastguard rescue teams and the coastguard helicopter from Caernarfon.
The RNLI volunteer crew quickly reached Mabel, who was calmly floating on her back but had drifted a quarter of a mile out to sea in a fast outgoing tide.
Mabel was taken back to the boathouse, where she was checked over by a paramedic before being reunited with her family.
Daryl James, RNLI volunteer at Barmouth, said: ‘When you get the call to people in the water there is a massive sense of urgency as it really can be a life or death situation. When we arrived, Mabel, despite her serious predicament, had remained calm and was floating on her back with waves breaking over her.
‘When we found out float advice was given to Mabel by her little sister, we were all quite overwhelmed and so relieved this small piece of advice helped to save a life. It’s very difficult to fight the instinct to panic, but Mabel did really well in staying calm and gently floating until help arrived.’
Ben Hillier, HM Coastguard Rescue Officer, was on the phone to Milena throughout, working with Coastguard colleagues at the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre who directed the rescue. He said; ‘I could hear the panic in her voice – it was clear she was very worried. Alongside getting the details of what was going on and where our help was needed, I knew I needed to calm her down as well – so I kept telling her to describe what she could see, and keep her focused on talking to me.
‘I was talking to her for more than half an hour, keeping her calm and providing as many updates as possible so it felt very good when both daughters were found safe and well and that we had a hand in helping that happen.’
Alice Beetlestone, RNLI Water Safety Education Manager said: ‘Everyone involved did the right thing from the girls remembering the Float to live technique to mum and members of the public calling 999. Our advice if you find yourself in trouble in the water is to Float to Live - lean back spreading your arms and legs like a starfish to stay afloat, control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety.
‘If you are planning on heading to the coast we recommend you choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags which is the safest place to swim as it is closely monitored by our lifeguards.
‘Beaches can become very busy and we urge those with children to keep an eye on them on the beach and near the water’s edge.
‘If you find yourself or see someone else in danger in a coastal emergency, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.’
The key summer safety advice is:
§ Visit a lifeguarded beach & swim between the red and yellow flags
§ If you get into trouble Float to Live – lie on your back and relax, resisting the urge to thrash about
§ Call 999 in an emergency and ask for the Coastguard
For further information on the water safety campaign visit: RNLI.org/FloatUK2022
A full list of RNLI lifeguarded beaches can be found here: rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeguarded-beaches
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
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries