Royal Humane Society
Instituted 1774 Registered Charity Number 231469
recognising the bravery of people
Testimonial on Vellum
Helena Benge-Nilsdotter and her husband, Philip, were enjoying a Christmas holiday on the idyllic Maldive Islands when the tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004.
They had spent the morning with a group of friends snorkelling in the Indian Ocean. As the first big wave crashed ashore, Helena realised that one of their party, Keith Lake, was still in the water and was in serious trouble.
Despite the risk to her own safety, she headed straight back out to sea to rescue the 6-foot 4-inch chauffeur.
'I still don't know how I did it,' says the 43-year old Swede, who lives in Weston-super-Mare. 'It was a horrible feeling being swept out to sea again. At the time, I was very focussed on what had to be done, but I was shaken afterwards.'
The force of the first wave had wrenched Lake's snorkel, flippers and even wedding-ring from him. He remembers feeling resigned to his fate.
'I was on the bottom and had accepted that I was going to die,' he says. 'It was all so peaceful. When I came to the surface, there was Helena. I just felt, if I'm going to die, then I'm not going to die alone.'
Helena, who has lifesaving qualifications, realised that Keith was panicking. To calm him down, she slapped him across his face.
With enormous difficulty, she managed to swim about half-a-mile to shore with him on her back.
It was more than 24 hours later before they realised the scale of the disaster: it was not just the Maldives but countries all around the Indian Ocean that had been devastated by the tsunami.
'How do you thank someone who has saved your life?' asks Lake. 'No words can say how I feel.'
For her outstanding bravery in saving Keith Lake from drowning, Helena Benge-Nilsdotter was awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Vellum.
The presentation of the award was made by Keith Lake's former boss, Charles Moore, Consultant Editor of the Daily Telegraph, at a special ceremony in London in May 2005.
'Helena showed extraordinary courage of the most practical kind,' commented Moore. 'She deployed her lifesaving skills with great persistence and resourcefulness. Without her, Keith would not be here today. She fully deserves her Royal Humane Society award.'
Helena herself remains modest about her actions.
'I just did something because I had to,' she says. 'I would like to think that everyone would do the same.'