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Paddleboarder shares terrifying seven-hour ordeal after being rescued by multiple emergency crews including teams from Lymington and Mudeford

A PADDLEBOARDER who was adrift for seven hours, sparking a major air and sea search, has shared his terrifying ordeal.

Multiple rescue teams, including those from Lymington and Mudeford, responded after Tomasz Oleksik and his 16-year-old son disappeared while paddling from Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks.

They were both safely recovered, and Tomasz (45) has now recounted the harrowing experience from July ahead of 999 Day on Saturday.

This national event recognises the country’s emergency services, promotes using them responsibly and encourages the public to learn life-saving skills.

Tomasz and his son setting off on the paddleboard on the fateful day in July
Tomasz and his son setting off on the paddleboard on the fateful day in July

Tomasz was on holiday with his wife Lucy and their son when the pair set off on their paddle, seeing no sign of the strong offshore winds from the bay’s calm and sheltered waters.

But this all changed within minutes, and he quickly lost sight of the beach as the strong currents and winds became evident.

A large wave knocked Tomasz off his board and into the water.

“That’s when I lost control, it was the first time I felt how strong nature is. I had no chance. I felt so small,” he said.

Having lost sight of his son, he was unable to get back onto his board and kept afloat only by his buoyancy aid, without which he believed he would not have lasted 10 minutes.

Tomasz had taken a mobile phone with him, but this was in his bag which sank when he fell into the water.

Passers-by advised Lucy to call 999 for the coastguard as she worriedly walked along the beach trying to spot her husband and son.

This sparked a multi-agency search, coordinated by HM Coastguard, with RNLI crews from Lymington, Mudeford, Swanage, Poole and Yarmouth launching seven lifeboats.

A National Police Air Service helicopter joined coastguard choppers from Lee-on-Solent and St Athan.

Coastguard rescue teams from Lymington, Poole, Southbourne, St Albans Head and Swanage were also dispatched.

They were supported by teams from Dorset Police and South Western Ambulance Service.

Tomasz said: “I started to worry because I saw the sun set. I thought, if they don’t find me before it gets dark, how will I survive?”

Exhausted from fighting the waves, he fell asleep resting his head on his board.

Lucy was cared for during the search by Steve (from Swanage Coastguard) and Ann Westwood.

Praising the Westwoods for helping keep her spirits up, Lucy said: “Even as it began to get dark, Ann reminded me it was a full moon which would give the crews a bit more light for the search.”

Seven hours after launching his paddleboard, Tomasz was awoken by the sound of a helicopter overhead.

Yarmouth's RNLI lifeboat returning from the rescue operation (picture: Yarmouth RNLI)
Yarmouth's RNLI lifeboat returning from the rescue operation (picture: Yarmouth RNLI)

Yarmouth RNLI lifeboat was on scene minutes later, locating him four miles east of Old Harry Rocks.

Despite being barely able to lift his arms from exhaustion, Tomasz described the complete relief he felt knowing the lifeboat crew had seen him.

“I saw someone wave back, and I knew they were coming to get me,” he said.

His relief was short-lived when he found out his son was still missing while being airlifted to hospital as the search continued.

But, shortly after arriving, he was told police found his son after he managed to get to shore at Hengistbury Head, five miles from where he was found.

Steve continued: “The joy on our faces when we knew everyone was alive, Lucy was jumping around the front room laughing and crying.

“This was a situation that escalated quite quickly, so much time had passed while they were out there. We had been thinking the worst. We’re so glad it was a positive ending.”

Tomasz wanted his story to highlight the dangers of going out on the open water.

“This is not the lake, this is not the swimming pool, this is the ocean. I want to tell every paddleboarder: check the weather, check the tides, and wear a buoyancy aid. This is so important,” he said.

Samantha Hughes, of the RNLI’s water safety team, said: “We want paddlers to have fun and to stay safe when heading out onto the water.

“Weather conditions, particularly offshore winds and strong tidal currents can make it more difficult or even impossible to return to the shore, so it is really important to check the forecast and tide times before you head out.”

People should wear well-fitted buoyancy aids or personal floatation devices, and always carry a means of calling for help, such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch.

In emergencies on the coast they should dial 999 and ask for the coastguard, while the fire and rescue service should be called for inland emergencies.

Paddleboarding safety advice can be found online at tinyurl.com/mra7casn

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