Rip tide almost claims lives of bodyboarders

A BERWICK father and son are lucky to be alive this week after being caught by a rip tide as they bodyboarded at a beach near Dunbar on Saturday evening.

The pair nearly lost their lives as they, along with another boarder, were pounded by mountainous waves and rolled along the seabed near Tyninghame Beach.

Michael Strachan (47) was unable to reach 11-year-old Craig because of the huge waves and could only watch helplessly as his son was dragged under time and time again.

A dinghy was launched from the beach and managed to pick up Craig who was some distance from his dad and was exhausted.

However the huge waves flooded the engine and the dingy had to surf into shore without rescuing the two men.

Michael - who, like Craig, was wearing a wet suit and life jacket - was left desperately trying to keep the other boarder afloat as he was wearing only swimming shorts and had no life jacket.

Both of Dunbar’s lifeboats were launched but were unable to get near the boarders and the crew could do nothing but watch as they struggled for survival.

“We just felt hopeless and useless and could only watch the struggle,” said Coxswain Gary Fairbairn. “The sea was horrific with waves eight metres high at the surf line.”

The three boarders had been caught by a rip tide created by the unusually high waves. The sea was so rough that the inshore lifeboat had a real struggle just to get out of Dunbar harbour and had to wait until the all weather lifeboat (ALB) was on the scene at the harbour mouth before risking it.

“Helmsman Mark Grey then saw a gap in the waves and just went for it,” said Coxswain Fairbairn.

However the size of the waves meant that both lifeboats had great difficulty in locating the casualties as the sea was just a mass of breaking water by the shore.

“At one point we were operating in only two metres of water with the waves breaking over the flying bridge,” said Coxswain Fairbairn.

The ALB, which is a self-righting boat, was actually knocked down twice by the surf.

“When we eventually found them they were too close to shore for us to get them and too far from the shore for the coastguard shore team to get them,” said Coxswain Fairbairn.

Fortunately the coastguard had asked for backup from an RAF search and rescue chopper from RAF Boulmer which arrived after the men had been in the water for around two hours.

The pair were winched to safety and landed on the dunes at Tyninghame where they were checked over by paramedics then taken, along with the boy, to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to recover. The Strachans were released along with the other man, from Haddington, after being treated for hypothermia and secondary drowning - water on the lungs.

“It was an extremely frustrating rescue for all concerned, us feeling helpless at sea and the coastguard on the beach not able to do much either until the helicopter arrived on scene,” added Coxswain Fairbairn.

Mr Strachan (47), from Goldstone in Berwick, said: “It was a nightmare. We were just getting rolled and rolled and rubbed along the bottom - it was like being in a washing machine. I thought we might not make it.”

Gordon Downard, watch manager for Forth Coastguard, said: “Our coastline is a wonderful and exciting environemnt for all ages but can sometimes have hidden dangers which you should assess before undertaking water activities.

“If you see anyone in trouble at the coast or on the sea, dial 999.”