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Family lucky to be alive after being caught out by Brancaster tides

PUBLISHED: 11:44 10 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:44 10 September 2013

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A Wisbech family who were forced to cling for their lives on to marker buoys in the sea after being caught out by rising tides have said they are lucky to be alive.

Zoe O’Donnell, 23, and her two sisters Molly and Daisy, both 12, were just seconds from being swept away by the sea after the tide came in while they were visiting a shipwreck at Brancaster, near Hunstanton.

For a time the two twins clung to the shirt of Zoe’s 29-year-old boyfriend, Nickie Davies, who guided them to a marker buoy floating nearby while he swam to the shore for help.

But as volunteers from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) sailed out on a hovercraft to try and rescue them, two of the sisters lost their grip of the buoy and were swept further out to sea.

“I thought I was going to have to stand there and watch them drown,” Mr Davies, of Sefton Avenue, Wisbech, said. “The lifeguards said they had about 20 seconds to save them.”

Luckily all three sisters were rescued, with senior helmsman Michael Darby jumping off the boat and swimming against the current to save one of the girls who was still clinging to the buoy but had become particularly distressed. He inflated his lifejacket in order to keep both of them afloat.

A dramatic video of the rescue released by the RNLI shows one of the sisters screaming desperately for help and yelling at the lifeguards to save her siblings.

All three were taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King’s Lynn, to be checked over but were later released with a clean bill of health. Mr Davies added: “We started to walk back when we realised the tide was coming in but realised that we were getting cut off and that we couldn’t touch the floor any more.

“I had one of the girls clinging onto my shirt and we swam the two girls to a buoy in the middle of the sea. The three girls hung onto the buoy while I swam back.

“I used to be quite a good swimmer but from what I saw, I thought there was no way I could make it across. The little ones can only doggy-paddle. I was panicking.

“When the RNLI got there, they were brilliant. If it wasn’t for them, things could have been a lot worse.”

Mr Darby said the incident, which happened on Wednesday, September 4, “was the most serious we have attended for some time”.

He added: “The prompt response by the volunteer crew undoubtedly saved this young family from a grim fate.”

The Hunstanton RNLI received the call from Humber Coastguard at around 3.45pm and reached the group by 4.15pm.

Mr Davies said he and other people on the beach were preparing to swim out in an attempt to rescue the trio until the hovercraft reached them.

Later Stacy O’Donnell, mother of three sisters, visited the RNLI station to watch the video footage of the rescue and thank those who saved her daughters’ lives.

“I just want to say a massive thank you to the crew and what they have done for my daughters,” she said. “If they had been one minute later, I don’t know what could have happened.

“My eldest daughter and one of the twins had drifted quite far away. We just weren’t aware of how dangerous the water could be.”

Will Stephens, RNLI coastal safety manager, said: “We are really pleased that there was a positive outcome and that the girls are now safe.”

However, he also gave an important safety warning in light of the incident. “People are rarely aware of the tide times and however tempting it is to walk out onto the banks, the tidal currents are strong.”

“We would strongly advise visitors to the seaside to go to a lifeguarded beach and to enjoy the beach but to do so safely.”

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