Saving drowning people is hard

So me and my brother are in Thailand snorkelling off the coast of a tourist trap island. There’s a tonne of people in the sea and this has created a great opportunity to play the wonderful game of hide and seek! For roughly 15 minutes we were having a swell time manoeuvring through the electric blue water, hiding behind people and rocks, until half way through my turn of hiding, I was abruptly interrupted by the nearby sound of someone in distress.

“Help, Help my, my brother” I emerge from the sea very un-James Bond like, water in my partially steamed goggles I make out a Chinese woman, unusually tall, holding a baby roughly 30cm away from me. I smile at her and try to make brief eye contact so she knows I acknowledge her presence. However even through the steam I’m able to make out she is in great distress. I whip my goggles off and ask her what’s wrong? She again repeats ‘My brother, look, help help!’ and she points out into the ocean. Immediately my ears begin to perk up, I rub my eyes and true enough, there’s a kid (probably 15 years old) literally drowning right before my eyes. It was like something out of the movies, you know where you see actors ‘drowning’, the guys hands were flailing all over the place. The waves were fairly big out there, and they crashed down upon him with force, causing him to continually go under and intake a lot of sea water.  At this point, I was very much still in shock, I mean I just couldn’t believe it, I had never been in this position before or even thought about it – there was literally someone drowning in front of me. After a few seconds of attempting and failing to process this information, I looked around and everyone was busy having fun, nobody had noticed, It was just me, this drowning kid and this woman with a now crying baby..

I threw off my snorkelling equipment, dived under the sea and swam with purpose in his direction. Coming up occasionally to see if I was any nearer to him – sure enough after what felt like ages (but was probably around 30 seconds of solid swimming) I had reached him. It was at this point I realised…

no idea

I don’t know how to save anyone! As aforementioned the closest thing I had seen had been in the movies, and I unfortunately found out in this situation – your brain doesn’t function properly to allow you to access complete memories. The first thing I did when I reached him, out of instinct was to just grab him, not to perform some kind of miraculous manoeuvre but just to let him know I was there. The first thing he did, was try to baptise me – grabbing and dunking me under the water to propel himself up.


I knocked his hands off my head and kicked about under water to swim up and catch my breath. Unfortunately the timing of my dramatic gasping was very poor and as I emerged mouth wide open, I was met with a huge wave which sent both me and the kid back under. I came straight back up again, now violently coughing due to the in-take of water, I rubbed my eyes and tried to make out where the kid had gone. Again another huge wave came crashing in, I dived under to avoid impact and to my surprise met him halfway as he was coming back up. I grabbed his left arm with my left hand and put it around my neck, then used the right to grab his right side and we kicked back to the surface. I told him to tread water, which on reflection was a pretty silly thing to say when you consider that he probably wouldn’t be in this position right now if he knew how to do that. On this failing, I motioned to him to try swim forward with me towards the beach, but he immediately panicked as soon as I let go of his hand and began to push me down again. Every time he did this I lost a lot of energy and in took a lot of sea water. We were in a very dangerous position, just holding him afloat was a lot of work due to his (shall we say) ‘heavy’ build. After about 1 minute of trying to swim towards the beach with little progress I really began to tire. The aggressive pounding of the waves was relentless and we now begun to go under every 5 seconds or so.

It was at this point that a tour guide had spotted the commotion and had hastily made his way out to us. After about 20 seconds he reach us and I passed him the boy and he immediately turned him around, leaned him against his chest and used his legs to swim back to shore (in other words, he adopted the correct position and managed to finally get the kid out of there). As he was swimming off, the guide gave me a piercing look and vehemently pointed twice. I turned around to see that there was an elderly man drowning as well. To think all this time (only like 4/5 minutes) there had been another person drowning about 10 meters away from me, but due to the concealing waves – I had no clue!

With what energy I had left, I swam as fast as I could to the old man and then pulled him towards me.  He felt very frail and light, like he should have had a ‘handle with care’ stamp across his forehead. He wrapped his arms around my neck tightly, (the way I imagine my kids will in the future) and as he was so light I attempted to swim back with him just like that. But ultimately ended up wasting even more valuable energy and in-taking even more water from the constant barrage of waves. I broke his grip free and tried to spin him round, but as I did he went straight under. To my surprise he came straight back up and went high into the air. This could only mean one thing, there were rocks beneath us! I used my feet to search for them, and sure enough we had drifted over a rocky patch. The only problem being they were very sharp and jagged meaning we couldn’t really stand on them for long.

Regardless I was severely exhausted and decided to raise him up onto one of the biggest ones I found and then attempt to balance him by keeping him steady, however this turned out to be useless as the sea was constantly pulling us in several directions. I decided to scout for the guide to see whereabouts he was, but there was no one on the horizon apart from my brother. Using the rocks myself I launched into the air and shouted to him at the top of my lungs. Upon ascent I felt a searing pain but it rapidly disappeared on descent. Within 30 seconds he had reached us and we managed to get the man onto the rocks keeping him steady until the guide finally arrived to take him back.

At this point my brother and I are still out at sea on top of the rocks. I begin to feel the sea dragging my feet from underneath me and we were beginning to be pulled further out. Without hesitation, I looked at my brother and told him to swim for the shore. The last thing we needed was to be caught up in one of the infamous rip tides. Plunging down into the water I swam strong, with every ounce of energy, fibre and strength I had left. Before I knew it my feet could touch the sandy seabed again and those sharp rocks felt a world away. After checking to see if my brother was all right, we hi5’d and trudged out the sea. On the way, the lady who originally interrupted our game of hide and seek was now smiling and she enthusiastically thanked me. I returned the smile and accompanied it with a nod. I then looked around to see if I could spot the old guy and kid, and sure enough, they were there, safe and surrounded by their families. I decided to take the same course of action and slowly walked away with a now cut up foot decorated in blood. It didn’t hurt (at first) but once the adrenaline wore off, it was hard to walk or sleep for the next few days due to the torn skin catching on the sheets at night. Nevertheless there was a sense of pride about this injury, with the overwhelming feeling  being – it was 100% worth it.

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