Call for stronger tide warning signs after children rescued off Lepe beach twice in a week
THERE have been calls for extra warning signs at a popular New Forest beach after children were swept away by strong currents twice within a week.
The appeal for more signage came from teacher Phil Bagge who was one of those involved in a pair of recent rescues off Lepe beach, near an occasionally submerged spit of sand.
Just days after Phil pulled a child from the sea, a bystander collapsed there having rushed to the aid of three children in trouble in the same area of water.
The first emergency was last Wednesday when Phil (54) was assisted by a paddle boarder. The drama unfolded at around 3.30pm as he and his family got ready to leave.
“I was literally standing in my underpants when I noticed a family of four children shouting for help just near the spit,” the Southampton resident told the A&T.
A nearby swimmer had managed to pull one of them to safety as the others tried to secure their footing in the shallow water.
But one boy, whom Phil estimated was no older than six, was dragged further out.
“I just went in and swam to him and got hold of him,” he continued. “He didn’t struggle at all, he was so exhausted, and he had this really fixed glassy look on his face, poor kid.
“His head had gone underwater a few times before I reached him.”
The paddle boarder joined them and took on the spluttering child before they battled the current back to shore where he was safely returned to his distraught but grateful mother.
Phil, who is a Sea Scouts member, stressed the children were only about five metres from the beach when they first got into trouble, with the boy no more than 30 metres out when rescued.
“Because the sign says ‘offshore currents’ that makes it seem like the danger is further out,” he said.
“I had already told my kids to keep off the spit, but I didn’t realise quite how strong the current was.
“Even a very clear red flag each side of the spit and a sign saying, ‘Please don’t swim here’ would be good.”
Just five days later on Monday, a second emergency led to two bystanders going into the water to help as rescue crews responded to a 999 call at around 5.45pm reporting three children aged under 10 swept off the sandbar.
All of them were brought to shore before the arrival of crews including coastguard teams, RNLI and paramedics.
One of the rescuers had already left the scene but the other, a local man in his 30s, was lying face down on the beach struggling to breathe.
Cowes RNLI and a Lymington coastguard team helped treat him and the three youngsters who had ingested substantial amounts of water.
They were helped by a co-responder team from Hythe fire station and paramedics who transported all four by ambulance to Southampton General Hospital. Their conditions were described as “non-life-threatening”.
A Cowes RNLI spokesperson said: “Although the rescuers and rescued safely reached the shore, the lifeboat arrived to find one of the men face down on the beach, struggling to breathe.
“He was given first aid by a lifeboat member, and also then checked by a fireman and a Lymington coastguard before being handed over to an ambulance.”
Praising the man’s rescue efforts as “heroic” and commending witnesses for doing the right thing by immediately dialling 999, Lymington coastguard issued a warning to Lepe beach visitors.
“Be aware of local weather and tide conditions at all times, or make enquiries if unsure,” a spokesperson said.
“Always swim within a safe area and within your depth and capability.
“These people had an incredibly lucky escape.”
Hampshire County Council, which owns Lepe Country Park by the beach, said there was “prominent awareness signage” about the currents on either side of the spit.
Thanking the rescuers, an HCC spokesperson said: “It is really important for anyone entering the water to be aware of the tidal conditions if they visit the beach, and we display tide timings inside the Lookout visitor centre, and on a screen in the clifftop car park.
“Visitor safety at Lepe Country Park is our top priority, and measures are reviewed following any incidents to identify any actions or improvements needed, such as additional signage.”