09 October 2023

Kayaker recalls ‘hand of God’ moment as he was rescued off Co Antrim coast

09 October 2023

An RNLI rescue during which a father-of-two described receiving a “hand of God” as he feared he would drown is to feature on a television programme.

The man, who wishes to be known as Julio, had been on an evening fishing trip on a kayak off the coast of Browns Bay near Larne in Co Antrim when he fell in the water.

He initially tried to struggle back into his kayak before opting to swim the 150 metres to shore instead.

He described his terror as he realised a current was pushing him away from the coast, and became exhausted.

I was so lucky - I owe everything to that crew, they’re my heroes

“I thought I was going to drown – it’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I kept thinking that I want to see my family again, and that made me fight for my life,” he said.

“I almost gave up a couple of times and let myself go, but when I was under the water, in the back of my mind there was something still fighting and I swam back to the surface, then my instinct was to float, to save my energy.”

Julio said he remembered seeing an RNLI advert, “Float To Live”, and rolled on to his back with his ears submerged, relaxing and trying to breathe normally, moving his arms to stay afloat, knowing that if he did not, he would drown.

His life was saved when the local RNLI team came to his aid.

“I was running out of time, then I felt these two hands grabbing me on my shoulder, pulling me into the boat. It was like the hand of God,” he said.

Volunteer RNLI Larne lifeboat crew member Sami Agnew said they found Julio when they heard his cries for help.

“When you’re looking for a person in the water in the day, it can be really tricky, but at night with no light it is nearly impossible,” he said.

“The casualty had been in the water for over an hour and we were wondering if we’d be able to find him before it was too late – then we heard cries for help. You could tell he was using all the energy he had to call out.

“Luckily he remembered how to Float to Live as without this piece of lifesaving advice, the outcome may have been very different. It was an amazing feeling to see him floating and talking to us.

“We were on a high because we got him into the boat, but my heart dropped a wee bit because his colouring was just grey and you’re like, we need to make sure that this man survives.”

They rushed him to shore where an ambulance and his wife were waiting.

Julio described his rescuers as heroes: “These people saved my life. I was so lucky – I owe everything to that crew, they’re my heroes.”

In 2022, RNLI lifeboat crews around the UK and Ireland launched 9,312 times, saving 389 lives, while the charity’s lifeguards saved 117 lives on some of the UK’s busiest beaches.

The rescue is set to feature in episode three of the new series of the TV show Saving Lives At Sea on BBC Two on Thursday at 8pm.

The 10-part documentary is in its eighth series and includes the lifesaving work of the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews from around the UK and Ireland.

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