WHEN Frankie Ingall headed into the sea off Penarth with her paddleboard, she was looking forward to spending time on the water with her friend Sarah-Jane. But a quick evening paddle soon turned into a terrifying experience.
It was a calm spring day in May 2022, and both women are experienced outdoor swimmers and paddleboarders. But as they neared the end of Penarth’s pier, they found themselves in the grip of a fierce current and strong winds that began to pull them further out to sea. Whilst her friend was able to turn around and head back towards the shore, Frankie – who had been paddling ahead of her friend – found herself being dragged further and further out.
‘At one point, I was two miles from the shore’, says Frankie. ‘I can honestly say I was the most frightened I have ever been in my life.’
Fortunately, Sarah-Jane had been able to raise the alarm, and the volunteer crew of Penarth RNLI launched both their inshore lifeboats and headed swiftly to Frankie’s last know location, close to a yellow marker buoy. But the currents were so strong that she had already been been dragged further out towards the Bristol Channel.
‘When I first saw the lifeboat, it went towards a yellow buoy, and then seemed to stop and head in a different direction. That was the worst moment. I thought they couldn’t see me and they’d gone back.’
Fortunately for Frankie, the crew were able to work out in which direction she would have drifted, and were by her side to bring her to safety just four minutes after launching the lifeboats.
Frankie remembers: ‘When they reached me it was just an absolute relief. By the time they got to me, I couldn’t see land. I honestly thought I was going to die.
‘Then I realised that I was safe, and I was with people who were going to take me back to the shore. There was just overwhelming relief. I think that’s when the reality of what had happened overwhelmed me. The thought that there were two boats, and all those people had put their own lives on hold to come out and rescue me.’
One of those people was Penarth volunteer crew member Tom Quinn. It was a memorable rescue for Tom too – not only had he and his fellow volunteers saved a life, but it was also Tom’s very first shout as a fully qualified member of the Penarth crew.
‘I felt nervous at first if I am honest’, admits Tom. ‘You train so hard for situations like this, but it’s different when you know the reality of how urgent it is. But then I thought I can do this, I’ve had all the training and now I’m putting it in to practise.’
The intensive training that Tom and his crewmates undergo, and the boats and equipment that helped them to rescue Frankie so quickly, are only made possible thanks to the generous support of the public. The demand for the RNLI’s lifesaving services continues to be high, with 9,312 lifeboat launches over the course of the last year – an increase of 5% on 2021. In Wales, where Frankie was rescued, launches to paddleboarders alone in 2022 rose an incredible 31% from the year before.
This data – captured between January and December 2022 – highlights just how busy the charity’s selfless volunteer lifeboat crews have been. To ensure they are able to keep up with this demand, the charity is putting out its own ‘Mayday’ call, urging the public to take part in the Mayday Mile fundraiser – taking on the challenge of covering a mile a day for the month of May. All money raised will help to provide the vital training and equipment that is needed to keep its lifesavers ready to answer the call to rescue.
Tom adds: ‘As a charity, we rely on the generous support of members of the public to continue helping us to save people like Frankie. To see people taking part in fundraising activities, like the Mayday Mile, means the world to us. Every Mayday Mile completed really will help give us everything we need to continue to keep people safe this summer – and beyond.’
The Mayday Mile takes place from Monday 1 May to Wednesday 31 May. Sign up and find out more at RNLI.org/SupportMayday today.