40 rescued in Woolacombe rip tide drama
A mass rescue of 40 people from a perilous rip tide at Woolacombe Beach capped a manic bank holiday Monday for North Devon s RNLI Lifeguards. As thousands of beachgoers descended on Woolacombe and Croyde to enjoy sun and surf, the lifeguards patrolling th
A mass rescue of 40 people from a perilous rip tide at Woolacombe Beach capped a manic bank holiday Monday for North Devon's RNLI Lifeguards.
As thousands of beachgoers descended on Woolacombe and Croyde to enjoy sun and surf, the lifeguards patrolling the beaches were flat out dealing with a total of 115 incidents - 80 at Woolacombe alone.
Vaughan Lawson, RNLI area lifeguard manager, said at Croyde on Monday there had easily been 6,000 people on the beach and some 800 in the water at any one time.
A six-foot surf and unpredictable, shifting rip currents saw a day at Woolacombe beach turn to terror for a large group of swimmers and body boarders, as from nowhere a powerful rip began to drag them out to sea.
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Robbie Lamb, North Devon RNLI lifeguard supervisor, told how the drama at midday unfolded:
"It was a typical sunny bank holiday at Woolacombe, absolutely packed and you couldn't see the sand between people on the beach," he said.
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"We spotted the rip early, just one person was getting dragged out, so we put in a rescue board to go and get him," he said.
"Suddenly 30 to 40 people were getting swept out at once and we had to launch the Inshore Rescue Boat."
Two lifeguards took to the waves with boards and put out "torpedo buoys," acting as a floating platform for the swimmers while the boat ferried people to shore - the whole operation took less than 10 minutes.
There were no injuries reported, although one man received oxygen back at the beach and was checked by a First Responder from South Western Ambulance Service as a precaution.
"Pretty much all of them came up to us throughout the day to say thank you and that they didn't know what they would have done if we weren't there," added Robbie.
Lifeguards spent the day moving the red and yellow beach bathing flags to keep up with the unpredictable rip currents, revealed by the first big surf in several weeks.
The eight lifeguards at Woolacombe and seven at Croyde dealt with several more rip tide rescues, plus a high number of weaver fish stings, cuts from surf boards fins and a small army of lost children.
Robbie paid tribute to volunteers Annette Deasey and Kevin Turner from Woolacombe Surf Life Saving Club, who handled the smaller incidents:
"We wouldn't have been able to run the service we have today without their help," he said "and thank you also to Parkin Estates for their continued support."
The Gazette reported in May how RNLI lifeguards at Woolacombe saved 11 bathers being swept out by a rip tide.
Monday at Westward Ho! was quiet by comparison, with around five incidents dealt with by the RNLI lifeguards.