Children caught in a rip current in Devon

A rock pooling adventure ends in near disaster for a family on the beach at Croyde
Perfect conditions at the north end of Croyde Beach but there are hidden dangers

Photo: Shutterstock

Perfect conditions at the north end of Croyde Beach but there are hidden dangers

It was the last Saturday of the May half-term holiday.

Lifeguard Supervisor Gary Sinkevicius was on patrol that day. ‘Rain was forecast for the next day, so it was particularly busy,’ he remembers. ‘Six-foot perfect surf, sunny, warm and low tide. It all came together.’

‘A mid to low tide at Croyde is more dangerous because of the way the sand is,’ Gary explains. ‘There are deep holes, lots of banks and rip currents.’

‘We knew there would be rip currents’

The tide was about to turn. And the beach was getting busier, with lots of people walking up and down the shoreline. 

‘We were just preparing to launch the rescue watercraft, as we knew there’d be rip currents,’ remembers Gary. ‘Suddenly, a boy ran up to us.’

The boy’s dad was out in the water bodyboarding, while his mum, brother and sister sat on the beach. The brother and sister had gone to play in the rock pools, a long way from their mum. It had looked like flat water, so they’d jumped in. But strong currents swept them off their feet. They had been sucked out, where big waves were breaking. 

Croyde Beach in Cornwall

Photo: RNLI Matt Whitley

Big surf at the busy Croyde Beach in Devon

‘A quick glance up and I saw them,’ remembers Gary. ‘I ran the 300m to the water’s edge with my rescue board, telling the other lifeguard to launch the rescue watercraft as back up as I went. I jumped into the rip, using it to my advantage to get to the children quickly.

‘I thought the girl was unconscious to begin with. I thought she was about to give up and go under. I grabbed her and pulled her onto the rescue board.

‘The rip had swept us out into the breaking waves. As a wave hit us, the girl jumped on top of me and cuddled me like a koala bear. She was terrified. Two more waves broke. I tried to cover her mouth, so she didn’t swallow any more water.’

‘I was trying to paddle back to shore as the boy and a man called Nick, who had jumped in to help, hung onto my rescue board. Suddenly, a wave washed us all onto a sandbank. It all happened quickly.’ 

Lifeguard Supervisor Gary Sinkevicius

Photo: RNLI

Lifeguard Supervisor Gary Sinkevicius

‘They were looking blue and pale’

‘The kids were being sick. I thought they might have inhaled some water, which we would describe as a near drowning,’ recalls Gary. ‘I said: “Call 999, we have two near drownings on oxygen. We need an air ambulance”. They were both looking blue and pale.’

‘The air ambulance took just 10–15 minutes to arrive – it was pretty quick. While we waited, we monitored and checked their breathing and did ‘cap refill’ (capillary refill) tests to check for shock. This involves pressing their foreheads for 5 seconds and watching for the blood to return into their capillaries within 2 seconds.’

‘I took the children back up to the beach – there were two ambulances waiting, one for each child. The ambulances took them to an air ambulance.’ 

‘Nick, who’s from Bristol, also went to hospital to be checked for secondary drowning,’ says Gary. Secondary drowning can happen when someone inhales water into their lungs, which can cause swelling and prevent oxygen from entering the blood stream. Thankfully, Nick was OK. Gary continues: ‘The kids are fine now too. The girl was admitted to A&E with water in her lung but was out the next day.’

Red and yellow flags on the beach

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Swim between the red and yellow flags

Gary has some advice to keep you and your loved ones safe at the beach: ‘Swim between the red and yellow flags. They mark where it is safer to swim and helps you to be spotted more easily, should something go wrong.’

Gary adds: ‘Although the man who jumped in to help the children behaved heroically, we do ask that you never attempt to perform a rescue yourself as you can end up in danger too.’

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