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Paddleboarder rescued by RNLI after 7 hours missing shares story for 999 Day

Lifeboats News Release

A paddleboarder missing at sea for seven hours before being rescued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has shared his terrifying ordeal.

Ahead of 999 Day (9 Sept), a national day of recognition for the country’s emergency services, Tomasz Oleksik has relived the July day this summer when a paddle with his teenage son almost turned to tragedy.

The multi-agency search off the Dorset coast for Tomasz, 45, and his 16-year-old son involved seven RNLI lifeboats, HM Coastguard helicopters and rescue teams as well as the police and ambulance service.

Tomasz was on holiday with his wife Lucy and their son and had planned the route they would paddle from Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks before checking into their campsite.

The strong offshore winds were not evident in the calm, sheltered waters of Studland Bay as Tomasz and his son began their paddle. But in the space of just a few minutes, everything changed.

Tomasz said: ‘The weather was perfect when we started; it was sunny, the water was calm.

‘But I quickly lost sight of the beach and I realised how strong the currents were. I could feel something was wrong. Then the wind started, and then the waves.’

As the conditions deteriorated, a large wave knocked Tomasz off his board and into the water.

Tomasz said: ‘That’s when I lost control, it was the first time I felt how strong nature is. I had no chance. I felt so small.’

Tomasz quickly lost sight of his son. He was unable to get back onto his board and kept afloat only by his buoyancy aid.

Tomasz said: ‘If I hadn’t been wearing a buoyancy aid, I wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes.’

Although Tomasz had taken a mobile phone with him, it was in his bag which sank when he fell into the water.

Beginning to worry that they hadn’t returned, Lucy had begun walking along the beach to see if she could spot Tomasz and her son. After asking three passing young women for help, they advised her to call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. Lucy’s call sparked a multi-agency search for Tomasz and his son, coordinated by HM Coastguard.

Volunteers from Swanage, Poole, Yarmouth, Lymington and Mudeford RNLI launched seven lifeboats to join the search, as well as HM Coastguard helicopters from Lee-on-the-Solent and St Athan. Coastguard Rescue Teams from Lymington, Poole, Southbourne, St Albans Head and Swanage were also part of the search, along with a National Police Air Service helicopter. Support was provided by teams from Dorset Police and the South West Ambulance Service.

Tomasz said: ‘I started to worry because I saw the sun set. I thought, if they don’t find me before it gets dark, how will I survive?’

Eventually, exhausted from fighting the waves, Tomasz fell asleep resting his head on his board.

While the search continued, Lucy was cared for by Steve and Ann Westwood. Steve, who part of the search with Swanage Coastguard, said: ‘She needed reassurance. “We’re going to keep searching for as long as we can”, we kept saying.’ Recalling how the Westwoods helped to keep her spirits up, Lucy: said: ‘Even as it began to get dark, Ann reminded me it was a full moon which would give the crews a bit more light for the search’.

Seven hours after launching his paddleboard, Tomasz was awoken by the sound of a helicopter overhead. Yarmouth RNLI lifeboat were on scene minutes later locating him 4 miles east of Old Harry Rocks. Tomasz was so tired from his ordeal that he could barely lift his arms, but he describes the moment of complete relief when he knew the lifeboat crew had seen him. He said: ‘I saw someone wave back, and I knew they were coming to get me.’

Tomasz’s relief was short-lived though when he found out his son was still missing. Tomasz was airlifted to hospital as the search continued.

Shortly after arriving in hospital, Tomasz was told that his son had been found by police on a beach in Bournemouth after managing to get himself to shore at Hengistbury Head, 5 miles from where his dad was found. Steve Westwood said: ‘The joy on our faces when we knew everyone was alive, Lucy was jumping around the front room laughing and crying. This was a situation that escalated quite quickly, so much time had passed while they were out there. We had been thinking the worst. We’re so glad it was a positive ending.’

Despite experiencing such a terrifying ordeal, Tomasz said: ‘I’ve learnt the biggest lesson of my life. I want people to know my story, because not everyone understands what can happen on the ocean. This is major. This is not the lake, this is not the swimming pool, this is the ocean. I want to tell every paddleboarder: check the weather, check the tides, and wear a buoyancy aid. This is so important.’

Samantha Hughes, of the RNLI’s Water Safety team said: ‘We want paddlers to have fun and to stay safe when heading out onto the water. Weather conditions, particularly offshore winds and strong tidal currents can make it more difficult or even impossible to return to the shore, so it is really important to check the forecast and tide times before you head out.

‘Remember to wear a well-fitted buoyancy aid or personal floatation device as this will help you float if you end up in the water unexpectedly. Always carry a means of calling for help such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. In the event of an emergency at the coast call 999 and ask for the coastguard and if you're inland ask for the fire and rescue service.’

The RNLI encourages those heading out on the water to:

• wear a suitable buoyancy aid

• carry a phone in a waterproof pouch

• wear the correct leash

• avoid offshore winds

Notes to editors

· The RNLI’s safety advice for paddleboarding can be found at https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/stand-up-paddle-boarding

· 999 Day is on the 9 of September and promotes the work of the emergency services, promotes using the emergency services responsibly, educates the public about basic lifesaving skills, and promotes the many career and volunteering opportunities available.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Dave Riley, RNLI National Media Officer on 07795 015042 or [email protected] or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

RNLI online

For more information, please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the RNLI News Centre.

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.

RNLI

Tomasz and his son setting out on their paddleboards on the day that resulted in rescue by the RNLI

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

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.