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27 May 2013, 00:00 | Updated: 27 May 2013, 06:06
A total of 85 swimmers have had to be rescued from the sea during a charity swim off the coast at Southwold in Suffolk.
The mass rescue operation involved the RNLI lifeboats and beach lifeguards, andRNLI lifeboats were called in from Lowestoft and Aldeburgh to help search the wider area for swimmers who at the time were thought could be missing.
The Southwold RNLI crew were diverted from a training exercise to help swimmers who got into difficulty in strong tides during the Southwold Pier to Pub Swim, which began at 12.20pm. In total the lifeboat crew rescued 58 swimmers, most of them very tired and cold.
RNLI lifeguards rescued a further 27 people who had been unable to continue swimming against a strong ebbing tide.
Simon Callaghan, Helmsman at Southwold RNLI, said: ‘We were out on a regular Sunday exercise when we heard a swimmer calling for help. After that we had one of the busiest times I can remember, rescuing 58 people altogether. Our volunteer crew, the lifeguards and other rescue teams involved all responded brilliantly and may have averted what could have become a much more serous incident.’
RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Jo Thompson added: ‘Fortunately, all the swimmers are now accounted for. We had two lifeguards in the water on rescue boards, recovering people who became very cold and tired and so couldn’t swim any further and also escorting other people out of the water and back to the beach.’
As well as the RNLI lifeguards and the Southwold, Aldeburgh and Lowestoft RNLI lifeboats, Lowestoft and Southwold Coastguard Rescue Team, Great Yarmouth Coastguard Rescue Team, an RAF helicopter and a private RIB were involved in the rescue effort.