Sea Palling tragedy: rescuers tell their stories - drowning swimmers’ cries misunderstood

The site of the tragedy on Sea Palling beach. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

The site of the tragedy on Sea Palling beach. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Two people, including a schoolboy, who risked their lives to rescue drowning swimmers caught in a rip current have today spoken about their exhausting role in the tragic drama.

Neil Ramsay, who took part in the rescue at Sea Palling

Neil Ramsay, who took part in the rescue at Sea Palling - Credit: Archant

The other hero, Neil Ramsay, 44, is distressed that the men's shouts for help in Polish were not at first understood by himself and others on the beach at Sea Palling – and so vital time was lost.

David Castleman, 14, who has a gold-level lifesaving award, did not hesitate to plunge into the water and pull one of the unconscious pair, a 26-year-old man, to shore on Saturday morning.

He was resuscitated and airlifted to hospital, where his condition today is unknown.

Norwich man Mr Ramsay struck out and reached the other victim, aged 54, placing the man's head on a body board which he then dragged back to shore.

David Castleman, who helped with the rescue effort in Sea Palling

David Castleman, who helped with the rescue effort in Sea Palling - Credit: Archant


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Sadly, the older man could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

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We didn't know what they were shouting

Desperate cries for help by the stricken swimmers were ignored for precious minutes because they were shouting in Polish and no one understood them, according to rescuer Neil Ramsay, 44, of Thorpe Road, Norwich.

'There were four people in the sandy bank area as you walked towards the rocks,' he said.

'They were messing around making quite a bit of noise, shouting in Polish, but nobody realised they were in trouble.'

It was only after three or four minutes that there had seemed to be a collective realisation by others on the beach that something was wrong, and then everyone had sprung into action.

'There were seven or eight people in the water trying to swim out,' said Mr Ramsay, a regular kite surfer and swimmer at Sea Palling who is familiar with its rip currents.

He immediately rang 999, and then grabbed a body board and plunged into the water.

Teenager David Castleman had already started towing the younger man ashore and Mr Ramsay put the older man's head on his board and began an exhausting paddle to shore with him.

Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the 54-year-old was later pronounced dead at the scene.

'I'm disappointed that I didn't get in the water earlier,' he said. 'There needs to be a universal word for 'help'– we didn't know what they were shouting.'

Mr Ramsay, a financier with the Royal Bank of Scotland, has also called for mandatory school swimming lessons and for children to be taught about water dangers.

He added: 'This wasn't the outcome we all wanted, but it was a very impressive effort by all the emergency services.'

There was someone out there drowning - I knew what to do

Schoolboy David Castleman stripped off his shirt and shoes, ran into the sea without a second thought and used his lifesaving skills to drag the younger man to shore.

The 14-year-old had been strolling along Sea Palling beach with his parents when someone ran up and asked if any of them was a strong swimmer because people were in trouble.

David, who passed his Royal Life Saving Society's Survive and Save top gold award earlier this year, struck out 50m into the water and could feel the rip current beneath him.

'I just thought 'there's someone out there drowning. I know what to do and I'm a strong swimmer,'' he said.

Reaching the stricken pair, David turned both over, realised the younger one still showed signs of life, and immediately began towing him to safety.

'I had to use both hands – to hold his neck and pull, and the other to hold his head up,' said David, who was on holiday with his parents from their home in Epping.

'It was quite difficult because the water was trying to pull you out, and it was almost as if it was trying to pull you under at the same time.

'It used up all my strength and I was exhausted afterwards.'

As he neared the shore, dragging the unconscious man, David said others had run into the sea to help.

Once on the beach members of the public immediately began CPR on the victim and they were quickly joined by lifeguards and other emergency services.

Meanwhile David's father John was carrying out CPR on the older man, pulled to shore less than a minute later by Neil Ramsay.

Mr Castleman was helped by an off-duty doctor until the emergency services arrived, but despite prolonged attempts to revive the man, he was pronounced dead.

The 26-year-old man who had been helped by David was resuscitated and airlifted to Addenbrooke's Hospital where his condition is unknown.

Mum Julia Castleman said: 'He's a strong, trained swimmer – we are so proud of him.'

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