A mother has described how an evening stroll along a north Norfolk beach turned to terror and near tragedy.

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When her friend suddenly began sinking in mud, Zoe Russell desperately raced the fast-rising tide to free her – before getting stuck herself.

In the dark, icy, struggle Zoe, 31, lost contact with her two young daughters and feared they had drowned.

But the joy of reunion turned to panic and near despair as the party and their dog scrambled up cliffs to escape the waves and waited in pitch-black, freezing conditions for more than an hour before coastguards and lifeboat crew rescued them.

The drama began on Sunday evening when Zoe, her daughters Terrie-Leigh Covill, 13, and Eloise Covill, 11, and friend Carina Pelikan, 21, set out from their home on High Street, East Runton, for neighbouring West Runton, with their dog Mason, aiming to walk off a roast dinner.

As they had done many times before, they decided to walk home along the beach. At first Zoe thought Carina and Terrie-Leigh were just fooling around when they called out to her that Carina was stuck.

But as she carried on walking, Zoe remembers hearing a note of panic and urgency in her daughter’s voice as she shouted: “Mum, she really is stuck.” Zoe was horrified to find that Carina had sunk up to the thigh of one leg in the thick, sticky mud from a cliff slip and the ooze was already at knee height on her other leg, with the incoming tide just inches away.

Ordering her daughters to walk on with Mason, Zoe frantically began scooping huge armfuls of mud away from her friend’s legs. But as fast as she baled, more mud filled the vaccuum.

“For a split second I thought, ‘oh God, I’m not going to get her out’,” she recalled. As the sea lapped around them, Zoe at last managed to free Carina, but then found she herself was stuck. Carina heaved her friend free, leaving Zoe’s wellingtons wedged in the mud.

With half an hour now passed, the tide was in and Zoe desperately started screaming for her daughters. She said: “All I heard for about 10 minutes was silence. It was absolutely awful. I thought, ‘are they in the water’?”

But the girls, finding their way around a protruding stretch of cliff cut off by water, had scrambled upwards. They eventually heard their mother’s yells and sent Mason to fetch her and Carina.

As the reunited, mud-caked, freezing group cuddled, cried and tried to help each other by sharing clothing and singing, Zoe realised they must get help. With painful, throbbing, bare feet she struggled even higher to try and get a signal on her mobile phone. Unable to get through on 999, she managed instead to reach a friend, Martin Dean, known as Bluue, from Cromer, who happened to be in East Runton. He alerted the coastguard service and began scouring the cliffs for his friends as well.

Zoe remembers another heart-stopping moment when Cromer inshore lifeboat appeared offshore nearby, its lights shining, but then turned around and began moving away.“

“We were screaming ‘we’re here!’ but they couldn’t find us,” she said. Exhausted, freezing and in despair, Terrie-Leigh then had a panic attack and began drifting in and out of consciousness.

Fortunately, the lifeboat turned around, fired a flare and saw the stranded group. The crew and coastguards were then able to help them to the safety of a waiting ambulance at West Runton and they were taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to be checked over. Terrie-Leigh had to be taken from the cliffs by stretcher, with suspected hypothermia.

Recovering from the ordeal this week, Zoe said they were extremely grateful to all their rescuers. And she warned: “Some people might think we were just a bunch of silly girls on the beach at night but we weren’t.

“It was something we’d done many times. If anybody learns anything from what happened to us I hope it’s that the mud from those cliff slips can be very dangerous and the tide can come in really fast. We were lucky. It could have been a lot worse.”

9 comments

  • As the reporter who wrote this story I would like to defend Zoe, her daughters and Carina from some of these comments. Yes, they did have a torch with them. It was one of the functions of the mobile phone they carried. Nowhere in the story does it say that they DID NOT carry a torch – but some commenting here have jumped to that conclusion. The torch however was not powerful enough to alert the inshore lifeboat crew to their whereabouts and it was only when the lifeboat fired a flare that they were illuminated. . I did include: “Zoe said they were extremely grateful to all their rescuers,” but this seems to have been missed by one commentator. The constraints of newsprint inevitably meant that elements of this amazing story had to be condensed or omitted. We had told the tale from the rescuers’ point of view in Monday’s EDP but had not then had the chance to hear from Zoe etc. The coastguards and lifeboat crew were magnificent and we are all lucky to have these committed and professional men and women. It is easy to be wise with hindsight and Zoe was generous enough to want to share the lessons they learned from their experience as a warning to others. I was very impressed by the bravery, resourcefulness and selflessness of all four – and even Mason – once they found themselves in such a frightening situation.

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    Alex Hurrell

    Friday, January 18, 2013

  • You were lucky, thats for sure. One can only hope and prey that you think twice before attempting a dark route like that ever again.

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    Bruce87

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • Good to hear everyone was OK in the end. But they should have checked tide times and allowed plenty of extra time for potential mishap. When we used to occasionally walk along the coast late on winter afternoons we would go along the beach and back along the cliff-tops. With nobody else around and no mobile signal you may well as be a hundred miles from anywhere if something goes wrong on the shore.

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    Cyril the Canary

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • firstly let me say i am pleased there was a good outcome from thier ordeal and hope they are now all fine. but now i must ask the questions did they think before taking this route home in the dark? it may have been done several times in the past but the coastline changes from day to day. also didnt they think to take torches with them.the last paragraph does make sense but in the same way have they learned a lesson from this as well?

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    i am mostly wrong??

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • Reckless stupidity. EDP should have got the perspective of the numerous rescuers who had to turn out - instead of sensationalising the unbalanced story.

    Report this comment

    Tinkerbell

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • I know the full story and they did take a torch and it wasn't dark at first it got dark when they started to get stuck in the mud and they said thanks to the rescuers but they haven't added this on the family talked to the press hoping to get the story straight but again they have totally put something completely different and have unbalanced the story again and before you comment hate actually think ''is this the truth'' rather thank saying it was reckless stupidity etc!

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    Jemma Leesan

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • I know the full story and they did take a torch and it wasn't dark at first it got dark when they started to get stuck in the mud and they said thanks to the rescuers but they haven't added this on the family talked to the press hoping to get the story straight but again they have totally put something completely different and have unbalanced the story again and before you comment hate actually think ''is this the truth'' rather thank saying it was reckless stupidity etc!

    Report this comment

    Jemma Leesan

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

  • As the reporter who wrote this story I would like to defend Zoe, her daughters and Carina from some of these comments. Yes, they did have a torch with them. It was one of the functions of the mobile phone they carried. Nowhere in the story does it say that they DID NOT carry a torch – but some commenting here have jumped to that conclusion. The torch however was not powerful enough to alert the inshore lifeboat crew to their whereabouts and it was only when the lifeboat fired a flare that they were illuminated. . I did include: “Zoe said they were extremely grateful to all their rescuers,” but this seems to have been missed by one commentator. The constraints of newsprint inevitably meant that elements of this amazing story had to be condensed or omitted. We had told the tale from the rescuers’ point of view in Monday’s EDP but had not then had the chance to hear from Zoe etc. The coastguards and lifeboat crew were magnificent and we are all lucky to have these committed and professional men and women. It is easy to be wise with hindsight and Zoe was generous enough to want to share the lessons they learned from their experience as a warning to others. I was very impressed by the bravery, resourcefulness and selflessness of all four – and even Mason – once they found themselves in such a frightening situation.

    Report this comment

    Alex Hurrell

    Friday, January 18, 2013

  • I'm also glad they are all OK but honestly, would it have been that difficult to pop a small torch in a pocket? They would have seen where they were going and also helped to alert the lifeboat.

    Report this comment

    samphirelover

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

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