Thanks to Gabbi Simmonds, Sussex Youth Development Officer and Lifesaving Instructor, for sharing with us, her rescue which occurred whilst she was out in India delivering lifesaving awards.

In June 2013 I left England for a 6 week tour around Asia. The first stop was India where I volunteered for two weeks teaching in a small rural village primary school. The conditions we were living in were very tough, we had to wash out of a dirty well; it was 50 degrees centigrade and nowhere to escape from it, so not surprisingly we became incredibly ill from the food there.

The first weekend we took a three hour bus ride, a journey costing the equivalent of 18 pence, to Pondicherry, a town South of Chennai. Although this was not a tourist area, there was a beach to spend the day on. To say it was a relaxed day at the beach would be a lie. The locals  were completely fascinated with the 8 of us and we were surrounded all day.

The waves in the sea were incredibly rough and out of respect due to the local culture the girls and myself wore t-shirts and shorts when we went into the water. Only a few of us  went for a swim as you needed to be very confident due to the strength of the water. There were a lot of local men in the sea though, they didn’t venture out far as us; there were also many women in their saris just half way in enjoying the waves crashing into the shore which was very enjoyable to watch.

After about 20 minutes, just a few metres from me we noticed a young Indian man was screaming for help, waving his hands in the air and going under every few seconds. None of us were initially sure at first if he was joking and just wanted one of us to go to him, I realised very quickly that he wasn’t and I swam up to him unfortunately having to approach him from the front because of his positioning and the wave effect forcing me around.  He reached his arms out, put them around my neck and pushed me under. I used all the strength I had to get him off me and told him to calm down, using the correct procedure to get him to turn on his back so I could tow him. Sadly, due to the language barrier he had no idea what I was saying and so, with one of his arms still around my neck I forced him onto his back and attempted to tow him both chin toe and then cross chest keeping him as close to me as possible. Whilst performing the tow I was being forced under by the waves and had to use as much of my legs strength as possible because of the way he had his arm tightly around my neck. We got to the shallower area and I found the sea bed floor where I was half able to put my feet down and with him panicking and hanging on to me still, I told him to put his feet down but again he didn’t know what I was saying and didn’t comply. Then one of the guys I was with and some of the young man’s friends came to help me (finally) and they helped him out of the water.

It was an incredibly hard rescue due to the strength of the waves and the fact that he simply had no idea what I was saying. There were no lifeguards on the beach at all and it was clear that most of the locals could not swim properly at all. There was one sign saying risk of drowning which was small and hidden and this was the only warning I saw along the entire beach which was scattered with rubbish and wild dogs.

After a few minutes I got out of the water to go and sit down and the man having recovered from his ordeal shook my hand managing to say thank you. I told him to be careful of the water though I’m not sure he knew even then what I was saying.  Shortly after, a group of men were once again surrounding us. Another Indian man then bought me something over, a snake.  He told me it was a gift from all of them although the man I rescued was not there which was confusing! He did say I should take it home to my family to eat. I said I was very grateful but I was unable to accept it, I had two more countries to visit, 5 weeks left and it could have had many diseases on it, let alone it was a dead snake. This seemed to upset the giver and he may not have understood my refusal, and he suddenly ripped the snakes head off right in front of me and threw it down the beach – it was not a pretty sight!

It was a fascinating 30 minutes, not just for me but for the 8 of us who were there. It is very clear that there is nowhere in this area for the locals to learn how to swim, though this is most definitely the case within a lot of areas in India, and this is something which frustrated me though I was not surprised. Throughout the rest of my trip it made me more concerned when I saw people in the sea who looked like they were not strong swimmers, it really would be so brilliant if globally people were made more aware of how to swim and the dangers of the water.