Paddleboarder found after seven-hour search shares his story

Paddleboarder found after seven-hour search shares his story

Five Coastguard Rescue Teams, seven RNLI lifeboats and two Coastguard helicopters took part in the search for father and son
A man paddleboarding at sunset

A father and son who went missing while paddleboarding sparked a seven-hour multi-agency search off the Dorset coast this summer.  

Now Tomasz Oleksik is sharing his experience, urging other paddleboarders to prepare for their time on the water and be aware of the risks.  

At the beginning of July Tomasz, his wife Lucy and their 16-year-old son went on holiday, and the father and son planned to paddleboard from Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks.  

Only a short while into their paddleboarding route, the weather took a turn and the pair was separated at sea. 

As Lucy waited worried at the shore she was advised to call the Coastguard, and a search and rescue mission was launched.  

Coordinated by HM Coastguard, this involved five Coastguard Rescue Teams, seven RNLI lifeboats and two Coastguard helicopters, alongside the National Police Air Service helicopter, Dorset Police and South Western Ambulance Service. 

Looking back at the ordeal, Tomasz said: “The weather was perfect when we started; it was sunny, the water was calm. 

“I quickly lost sight of the beach and I realised how strong the currents were. I could feel something was wrong. Then the wind started, and then the waves.” 

A large wave knocked Tomasz off his board and into the water. Quickly he lost sight of his son. 

“It was the first time I felt how strong nature is. I had no chance. I felt so small,” Tomasz said. 

“If I hadn’t been wearing a buoyancy aid, I wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes. 

“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?” 

Coastguard Rescue Teams from Lymington, Poole, Southbourne, St Albans Head and Swanage, volunteers from Swanage, Poole, Yarmouth, Lymington and Mudeford RNLI and Coastguard helicopters from Lee-on-the-Solent and St Athan took part in the search. 

Seven hours after starting their trip, an exhausted Tomasz was located by helicopter, four miles east of Old Harry Rocks, and was airlifted to hospital. 

His son was found shortly after at Hengistbury Head – five miles away from Tomasz’s rescue. 

After calling the Coastguard, Lucy was looked after by Swanage Coastguard Rescue Officers Steve and Ann Westwood. Lucy stayed with the couple during the search and Tomasz’s time in hospital.

Steve said: “Whether it was Coastguard instinct or just the kindness in our hearts, it felt the right thing to do. She had no where else to go. 

“While the search was going on she needed the reassurance, ‘we’re going to keep searching for as long as we can’, we kept saying.” 

On the news both paddleboarders had been found, Steve said: “They were found just in time. 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.” 

Steve completed his Coastguard induction in February, and said paddleboard-related incidents are a regular call out for the service.  

His key safety advice for paddleboarders includes wearing the right kit and carrying a phone in a waterproof pouch. 

“Paddleboarding is always a big thing at this time of year, and a common call out for the Coastguard,” said Steve, “we want everyone to have fun but stay safe while out on the water.”

Tomasz added: “I’ve learnt the biggest lesson of my life. I want people to know my story, because not everyone understands what can happen in the ocean. This is major. 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.” 

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