“One of the biggest” rips ever seen by RNLI lifeguards at Woolacombe sucks dozens of people out to sea

LIFEGUARDS at Woolacombe had to react swiftly on Thursday to rescue 15 people from the clutches of one of the biggest rip currents the beach had ever seen.

The beach was packed during the afternoon as holidaymakers and locals enjoyed the unseasonable warm weather and ideal surfing conditions, unaware of the drama about to unfold.

RNLI divisional lifeguard manager said the flooding tide created a “massive” rip that caught up about 40 to 50 surfers and body boarders, 15 of whom had to be rescued.

“It all happened so quickly and there’s nothing you can do to prevent that,” he said.

“Had we not been here it would have been far more serious – it was that bad, it definitely would have got someone.

“It dragged them right out back into the breaking waves. One of these was a 12-year-old girl, who was faced with huge overhead waves.

“They were just picked up and whizzed out to sea – even the experienced surfers could not paddle against it and I have never seen one like it down there.”

Fortunately help was at hand and three lifeguards took to the water on rescue boards to support the casualties and watch over them whilst their colleagues used the inshore rescue boat to ferry then safely to the shallows.

Mr Hill praised the efforts of the lifeguarding team of Kai Drake, Luke Yabsley and Johnny Sandbach, plus supervisor Matthew Whitley and off duty lifeguard Joanna Booth, who also jumped in to help.

“I was really chuffed with the team and they all pulled it out of the bag,” he said.

“The holidaymakers were great too, as they helped me move the flags on the beach whilst I was keeping an eye on what was going on.”

In a safety message to water users he said: “If it is like that, make sure you stay on your floatation device or board. If you’re floating you’re safe - even if you’re not going in the direction you want to - and then we can come and get you.”

Find out more about beach and sea safety at www.rnli.org.uk.