RNLI lifeguards receive award for saving eight lives

Lifeguards News Release

Six RNLI lifeguards from Cornwall have received a Chief Executive Certificate recognising their determination, selflessness and lifesaving skills in extremely challenging sea conditions saving the lives of eight people, including children and teenagers, during a rescue at Whitsand Bay in August 2020

RNLI lifeguard supervisor Beau Gillett and lifeguards Tristan Gillett, Ed Sampson, Matthew Holt, Sophie Conway and Andy Wrennall were presented their awards by RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager James Millidge, on Wednesday (12 October).

The lifesaving rescue took place on Thursday 20 August 2020 on Tregonhawke beach, Whitsand Bay in south east Cornwall. It was a busy day on the beach with a two to three metre swell coupled with a strong south-westerly wind creating challenging conditions, but the lifeguards had identified a small, safe bathing area which beach goers were enjoying.

Shortly after lunchtime, RNLI lifeguards Matthew Holt and Sophie Conway were patrolling on the waters edge when they spotted a group of bathers drifting out of their depth in a sudden rip current that had formed to the east of the red and yellow bathing flags. Matt immediately entered the water with a rescue tube and fins and swam towards the group of bathers. Sophie remained at the water’s edge and radioed her colleagues to inform them of the unfolding situation. She also asked everyone else to exit the bathing area and lowered the flags.

Meanwhile, RNLI lifeguards Tristan Gillett and Ed Sampson launched the inshore rescue boat (IRB). Lifeguard supervisor Beau Gillett had run down from the lifeguard facility and begun paddling a rescue board to the scene to join Matt and the casualties who were now about 200m out to sea and very spread out amongst the rip current.

Matt secured a teenager and a child with his rescue tube, while Beau secured an adult and another teenager on his rescue board and the lifeguards aboard the IRB picked up three children, returning them safely to shore. All the casualties were in shock and very scared.

Off-duty RNLI lifeguard Andy Wrennall was teaching a surfing lesson and witnessed the incident unfolding. He swam through the breaking surf to the scene and rescued the final adult, towing the casualty using surf lifesaving techniques back to shore. Meanwhile the IRB returned through the surf to pick up the child who was being supported by Matt, and the teenager from Beau. Matt was able to swim the other casualty back to shore while Beau paddled the remaining adult casualty back on his rescue board. In total, six RNLI lifeguards had quickly and safely rescued eight casualties. Due to the conditions worsening on the incoming tide, the whole beach was subsequently red flagged.

Charlie Gillett, RNLI Lead Lifeguard Supervisor for south east Cornwall, says:

‘Both Beau and Tristan showed excellent leadership skills and trust in their team. Their quick decision making under pressure resulted in the casualties being rescued very soon after they were in danger.

‘The size and strength of the swell was challenging for all of the lifeguards involved and the IRB helm and crew showed excellent skill and determination to negotiate the surf and pick their path through the water, especially with such a strong wind and the increased risk of capsizing.

‘Matt demonstrated excellent lifesaving skills and strength swimming out through the surf and Andy’s awareness and response time whilst off-duty shows great courage and selflessness.

‘Sophie’s communication and quick response was crucial, and she made some important decisions under immense pressure which helped the whole team and made sure members of the public remained safe and out of the water whilst the incident was unfolding.

‘All six lifeguards demonstrated excellent lifesaving skills in triaging the eight casualties, supporting them until back-up arrived. A collaboration of selflessness, courage and trustworthiness.’

James Millidge, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager says;

‘It was a great pleasure to be able to present our lifeguards with these thoroughly deserving awards. This rescue came right in the middle of an exceptionally busy summer season in 2020, when our lifeguard teams were frequently pushed to their limits keeping beach goers safe.

‘It is testament to their skill, their training and their professionalism that they worked so effectively as a team to ensure everyone was brought back to shore safely. The charity couldn’t be prouder of their courage and determination and I am honoured to have been able to give them these awards in recognition of this.’

Notes to editors

· Please find attached a video of RNLI lifeguard Tristan Gillet who describes the incident from his perspective and a photo of some of the RNLI lifeguards involved in the lifesaving rescue who received their awards from the Area Lifesaving Manager, both credit RNLI

· To find your nearest lifeguarded beach, please visit: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeguarded-beaches

· To support the RNLI’s lifesavers, please go to: www.rnli.org/donate

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Becky Bright, RNLI Media Engagement Placement (south west) on 07929 673281 or [email protected] or Amy Caldwell, Regional Media Manager on 07920 818807 or [email protected]. Alternatively, please contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or [email protected].


RNLI lifeguards receiving awards (left to right: James Millidge, Beau Gillett, Ed Sampson, Tristan Gillett, Andy Wrennall, Charlie Gillett)

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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