Mother lost for 21 hours at sea on a lilo reveals how she survived

Mother who was saved after floating out to sea on a lilo for 21 hours reveals how she survived a storm and the thought of her family stopped her from letting herself die

  • Olga Kuldo was swept out to sea off the resort of Rethymno in northern Crete
  • The 55-year-old Russian floated on her sunbed for 21 hours – including overnight
  • Rescued when patrol plane checking for migrants saw her seven miles offshore
  • She said she feared being eaten by sharks or drowned by huge towering waves 

A woman who was lost at sea for 21 hours with nothing but a lilo to cling to has spoken out for the first time since her terrifying ordeal.

Olga Kuldo, 55, a cardiologist, feared she would be killed by a passing yacht after she was swept out to sea by a strong current in the holiday hotspot of Rethymno, Crete.

She had gone for a swim at the beach despite a ‘yellow’ weather warning flag and without telling her family – who thought she was in the spa.

The terrified tourist revealed she feared shark attack and enormous waves as she was smashed around in the water miles away from land.   

Desperately clinging to the airbed, she suffered hypothermia at night, and was then fried by piercing sun after daybreak.

Dramatic pictures show the moment a Russian holidaymaker (circled) was rescued seven miles off the coast of Crete, Greece, after being swept away on an inflatable lilo 


Olga Kuldo pictured with her daughter Yulia on a 55th birthday trip to Santorini Greece which the family had planned before her traumatic incident

She had been staying with her husband Oleg (centre), 59, and daughter Yulia (right), 28, at the resort

‘I went into the water, lay on my lilo and next moment the waves carried me away from the shore,’ said the Russian tourist.

‘In no time, I found myself in deep water where I couldn’t touch the bottom with my feet.

‘I am not a good swimmer, so I just grasped tight to my airbed and thought that soon I would manage to paddle my way to the shore.

‘But instead, the current and the wind carried me further and further away…

‘Then I began to shout and wave but nobody on the shore noticed.’

Her thoughts turned to her husband Oleg, 59, and daughter Yulia, 28, worrying about her in their resort of Rethymno on the north coast of Crete.

‘As night came, an eagle flew over my head and then a storm broke out ten minutes later,’ she said.

‘The waves were huge, and I did my best to hang onto my airbed.

‘When the waves calmed, I was tired and feared I could fall asleep.

‘So I sang songs to the birds flying over my head as a way of staying awake.’

She also talked to herself, and counted the moves of her arms to stay alert.

‘I did not sleep for second, I kept moving,’ she said.

‘Birds flew by and I worried that one of them may want to peck my head or airbed.

Images show Olga Kuldo, 55, desperately grappling with the float as Frontex workers throw her a rope to climb onto their vessel

Olga (left), daughter Yuia (middle) and husband Oleg (right) in Santorini after her dramatic rescue


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‘It was truly horrible at night, all sorts of thoughts flashed across my mind, and the storm was outrageous.’ 

Olga admitted that at moments in her ordeal she was overcome by ‘dark thoughts’ and the fear he would not survive.

She thought of letting the airbed go – but thankfully didn’t, it was her lifeline and without it she would have drowned.

‘I thought of Oleg and Yulia, and then about all my relatives. I thought how they would be hurt by my death.

‘This made me keep going. I had to fight until the very end. I kept trying to overcome my gloomy thoughts.’

There was another fear too – sharks or other threats lurking in the deep.

‘I felt things touching my legs.

‘I kept assuring myself it was just seaweed, nothing dangerous, that there was nothing down there that could harm me.

‘I just kept hoping that the right wind would come, or a current would carry me back to the shore.’

Her family only realised something was amiss at 7pm when she failed to return from her spa appointment – by then Olga had been in there sea already for four hours.

Her belongings including her purse were found on the beach.

‘This was the start of our nightmare,’ said Yulia, a TV producer.

Police came to the hotel and several large boats were sent out.

‘It was not possible to use small boats near the shore because the weather was bad, it was a storm.’

They would use a helicopter to search but only next morning, they were told.

Yulia was in panic.

Russian tourist Olga Kuldo (pictured) has been found ‘fried’ but alive after being stranded on an inflatable sunbed for 21 hours when it floated out to sea off Crete

Medic Olga Kuldo, from Zelenograd, Russia, was swept out to sea at the resort of Rethymno on the north of the Greek island after being caught in a strong current

‘We were told to wait, to calm down,’ she said, reliving the horror.

‘But I kept asking questions, and the statistics was not encouraging – 10 to 20 tourists die in the sea at Crete each year.’

She found herself asking morbid questions.

‘I asked how often they find people or their bodies, or do people just go missing and it ends with nothing…?

‘I wanted to know how quickly a dead body would come to the surface…’

She and her father couldn’t sleep. 

‘They were searching for her body,’ admitted Yulia.

‘No-one believed she could survive.

Yet as dawn broke Olga had survived the storm, and she congratulated herself on reaching her 55th birthday.  

Luckily for Olga, a Frontex plane – which patrols the external borders of the European Union monitoring for illegal immigrants spotted her the next morning and a boat soon arrived to pick her up.

The Russian woman was seven miles out to sea when she was found, it was reported. She had suffered hypothermia and dehydration and the skin on her back was badly burned’. 

Olga was kept in hospital for 24 hours, then discharged.

The family had planned a day-trip for Olga to Santorini as her birthday present and made their delayed trip before flying back to their home in Zelenograd, near Moscow.

‘All of us are finally recovering now,’ said Yulia.      

Dramatic images show her desperately grappling with the float as Frontex workers throw her a rope to climb onto their vessel.     

Frontex told The Sun in a statement: ‘On 28 June in the morning, a Slovak patrol plane deployed by Frontex in Greece was involved in a Search and Rescue operation when the Hellenic Coast Guard requested our plane to search for a missing person in the sea above Rethymno, Crete.

The 55-year-old floated through one night after being swept away from the resort (pictured) and was badly burnt by the hot sun the following day

Family members alerted rescuers after the medic (pictured) failed to return to her hotel room after a late afternoon swim.

‘At 10.40 our aircraft located the missing person, floating on an air mattress, nine nautical miles from Rethymno and one nautical mile from the coastline close to Lavris.

‘A Hellenic Coast Guard vessel was dispatched and rescued the 55 year old female who had been in the sea for about 20 hours ‘

Mrs Kuldo needed hospital treatment for exposure and resulting heart problems.  

Her relieved daughter Yulia posted on social media: ‘Miracles happen.’

She said her mother, an ultrasound diagnostics doctor, had been ‘burned to ashes’ by the daytime sun before the EU Frontex agency plane spotted her.

A local report on the island said she was on her sunbed ‘when she was carried away to the open sea so she could not be seen from the beach’.

It is unclear if she fell asleep but reports say she was carried away by a ‘strong current’. 

Local reports described Olga as ‘lucky’ to survive.

The main damage to her health was from a cold night after she was wet for hours clinging to the air bed.

‘She stayed alive despite a cold night, strong wind, occasional rain and even a small thunder storm,’ reported neakriti.gr

‘Her body temperature was as low as 32 C degrees’ (normal is 37C) – causing hypothermia, it was reported.

‘The tears of her family turned to incredible happiness.’

Day time temperatures can reach 35C, while at night they can drop to 18C – not cold but Olga had been hours in the water during the long night. 

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