Published 10 November 2014

A student helped save the lives of his parents’ and girlfriend just three weeks after completing the top lifesaving course run by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK).

Ashley Matthews, from Cambridge, had recently completed the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) from IQL UK, RLSS UK’s trading subsidiary, when he was on holiday in Majorca with his mum Jane, dad Russ and girlfriend Helen Sambrook.

The terrifying ordeal happened when the family had hired a boat from the resort of Puerto Pollensa but within 25 minutes of setting sail, they realised they were in trouble.

Ashley’s mum Jane said: “All of a sudden the weather completely changed.

“It became very windy and the canopy of the boat started catching the waves and water started coming in.

“We started scooping it out but then an enormous wave hit us and suddenly we were up to our knees. By this time I was starting to panic. We were almost tipping over.”

The family tried to find the boat’s life-jackets but it was almost impossible to reach them because of the wind. Ashley and his girlfriend managed to lift one of the cushions covering the compartment they were in.

“By this time my son’s legs were hanging off the front of the boat because it was the only way he could open the door,” Jane said.

“A wave knocked Ashley down but somehow he managed to stay calm and get to safety.”

Jane claims the boat company had told them there were five life-jackets on board along with a flare and a radio.

But 20-year-old Ashley could only find three and no other safety equipment.

She added: “Ashley passed us the life-jackets and said ‘don’t worry I’ll be alright’ and went without.”

At that point, the boat capsized and Jane realised her husband was trapped.

“Russ’s life-jacket had got caught in the boat’s canopy and he was stuck,” she said.

“Luckily my son and his girlfriend managed to untangle him.”

Thankfully the family, who were about 800 metres from the shore, noticed another boat in the distance.

“We just started swimming towards it, shouting and waving,” Jane said.

The crew spotted them and they were eventually able to climb on board.

“My son got on last after making sure we were all on safely. He was absolutely amazing. It’s only then that we’d realised his knee was badly cut and it was pouring with blood.

“He had to go to hospital. But all the way through our ordeal he stayed extremely calm and took charge.

“Even though he didn’t have a life-jacket on, he kept swimming between us saying ‘it’s going to be OK’. We’re so proud of what he did.”

Jane believes the fact that Ashley, who is studying PE at Leeds Metropolitan University, had completed the RLSS UK’s National Pool Lifeguard Qualification just three weeks before playing a big role in them still being here today.

Ashley said: “I never dreamed that I’d need the skills I learned on the lifeguard course so quickly and that it would help my own family. It was quite a shock afterwards.

“Doing the course made a huge difference. I would recommend the RLSS UK’s National Pool Lifeguard Qualification and first aid courses to anyone.”

When the boat went over Ashley said he was already prepared in his mind for what might happen and what he needed to do.

“I knew I had to try and keep everyone calm and I felt comfortable going in the water because I’ve been a keen swimmer since I was young and the lifeguard training meant I was ready for it.

“You never know when you might need the skills you learn,” Ashley said.

“As we found out, things can happen in the blink of an eye. One minute we were plodding along in the boat and the next we were in the water.”

There are more than 90,000 RLSS UK Pool Lifeguards in the UK trained in the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ).

Acting head of IQL UK, Martin Symcox, congratulated Ashley on his actions.

“The NPLQ is a qualification that saves lives in swimming pools and around water. The skills learned are skills that stay with you for life.

“Ashley’s quick thinking action helped keep his family safe in an extremely frightening situation and conditions. What he did, so soon after qualifying, was a fantastic achievement. He should be proud of himself.”