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RNLI crew turn Santa to surprise rescued Wirral family

Lifeboats News Release

RNLI crews from Barmouth deliver surprise Christmas gifts to a special family, who have thrown themselves into supporting the RNLI following a dramatic incident during the summer. The emotional reunion comes as the RNLI launches its Christmas appeal asking for help to continue its lifesaving work.

Milena Smith from Birkenhead is certain her family would have been facing a very different Christmas this year had it not been for the RNLI crew who saved the life of her eldest daughter Mabel, 12. The youngster was being swept away by the tide during a family holiday and had drifted a quarter of a mile further out to sea on a fast outgoing tide when she was dramatically rescued. Her younger sister Elsie, 10, had instructed her sister to float on her back after hearing the RNLI advice during a swimming lesson.

The family are indebted to the RNLI crew at Barmouth who returned Mabel to the safety of the shore. Since the rescue in August, Milena has thrown herself into fundraising for the RNLI, putting herself out of her comfort zone to ensure crews in Barmouth can continue returning loved ones to their families in the same way they experienced. As a non-swimmer, Milena has vowed to learn this vital life skill following the rescue and has pledged to swim 30 lengths to raise funds for the RNLI by the summer.

The Barmouth crew travelled to Hoylake Lifeboat Station today, where Milena was being given a tour of the lifeboat station and meeting her new volunteer manager for the first time. She hopes to not only support fundraising, but also spread the word about water safety and the RNLI’s Float to Live advice as a water safety volunteer on the Wirral.

Barmouth RNLI crew surprised her during the emotional reunion by handing over gifts to the family to thank them for their bravery, kindness and support.

The special visit was a huge moral boost to volunteer crews at Hoylake and Barmouth as they prepare for the prospect of leaving their loved ones behind to answer the call should someone need their help. Each time hoping to reunite another family, and see those in trouble at sea safely returned. Over the past five, RNLI lifeboats in Wales and the North West have launched nearly 100 times, with 49 people aided over the Christmas period.

During the reunion, all reflected on how Christmas may have been very different for the Smith family this year.

Daryl James, one of the crew who helped save Mabel says:

‘Sometime a rescue stays with you for a very long time and this really is one of them. When we reached Mabel, the waves were breaking over her and she was a long way out to sea, she was in a life or death situation. To see her in her family environment today is incredibly overwhelming.

‘As lifeboat crew we don’t do what we do for praise or gratitude but to see them all together planning for a family Christmas – that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t bear thinking about how different things could have been for them had we not made it in the nick of time

‘The RNLI couldn’t rescue people without kind donations from the public which fund the kit, training and equipment we need to save others and get home safely to our families. This is why supporting the Christmas appeal is so very important.’

Milena has already raised hundreds of pounds for the RNLI by walking, but is now looking forward to spreading vital safety advice on the Wirral. She says:

‘Before the rescue, I never really knew or appreciated what these fantastic volunteers do and I cannot begin to express my gratitude to them for keeping us all together as a family. Our Christmas will be that little bit more special this year and we’ll cherish the time we spend together just that little bit more, as we had come incredibly close to losing Mabel. I honestly thought I may have lost them all, it was like a scene from a nightmare.

‘From the moment we were all reunited thanks to the RNLI crew at Barmouth, I knew I wanted to do anything I could to support the charity. At the time I couldn’t swim and I spent a lot of time reflecting on how helpless that made me feel. I promised the crew I would learn how to swim and have kept to my word, as I want to complete a fundraising swim for the RNLI in the summer.

The first few lessons were tough and I struggled just to get in the pool, but after six lessons, I swam my first length. I’m so incredibly grateful to my teachers for their kindness and support, they have been brilliant.’

The RNLI is launching its Christmas appeal, as the charity asks for help to continue its lifesaving work at sea.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal visit:

Notes to editor:

Images and Float to Live video available to download here:

RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Danielle Rush on 07786 668829 [email protected] or the RNLI’s press office on 01202 336789 or [email protected]

Victoria Phipps

Milena, Mabel and Elsie with the Barmouth RNLI crew

Victoria Phipps

A surprise visit for Milena and her daughters

Victoria Phipps

Big hugs for the Barmouth RNLI crew

Victoria Phipps

Christmas comes early for the Smiths as they are visited by the Barmouth RNLI crew

Victoria Phipps

Christmas comes early for the Smiths as they are visited by the Barmouth RNLI crew

Victoria Phipps

Big hugs for the Barmouth RNLI crew

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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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.