Warning after two girls nearly buried alive in sand at Hemsby
A retired fisherman frantically clawed at sand after a section of cliff collapsed on two schoolgirls, nearly burying them alive on a Norfolk beach.
Three fire engines, two ambulances and lifeboat men rushed to Hemsby beach fearing the worst on Good Friday, but the girls were rescued by passers-by before more of the cliff could give way.
And retired Hemsby fisherman Kenny Chaney said it could have been a different story if he were not on the beach with his metal detector at the time.
'A little boy of about 10 came running up to me and said 'two girls have been buried in an avalanche',' said Mr Chaney, 66. 'It seemed they had tried to climb the cliffs.
'One girl was buried up to her neck and the other up to her chest.
'I was worried that the whole lot would come down - it was pretty vertical there and there's a lot of weight in it.'
He said two men came to assist with digging out the two holidaymakers, who he estimates were aged 12 and nine.
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'They were pretty panicked and frightened,' added Mr Chaney, of Waters Lane. 'We couldn't use a shovel as we didn't know where their legs were.
'I was drawing the sand out with my bare hands.
'It felt a long while when I kept digging and the sand kept collapsing in.
'They were very lucky they didn't get completely buried or nobody would have seen them until the next tide.'
After 10 minutes of digging, the girls were freed - the emergency services arrived shortly afterwards and the girls were reunited with their father.
It is understood the family had been walking from Winterton to Hemsby along the beach.
The fire brigade was called at 12.47pm on Friday and three fire appliances were dispatched, and two ambulances also attended.
A spokesman for the fire service said the tide was a long way in that day and made the sand act like sinking mud.
And emergency services have issued a warning over the dangers of playing on sand banks.
Ross Hewitt, coxswain of Hemsby Lifeboat, said: 'The major risk is death. Luckily for the girls, there was someone on the beach, but apart from them there was nobody else.
'They could have been stuck there for who knows how long.
'People say sending three fire engines and two ambulances is overkill, but it's what could be needed.'
He added crews do not see too many incidents where people get trapped in sand.
But said last August's incident in Caister, when 15-year-old Paige Anderson became trapped in a hole she was digging, has highlighted what could happen.
'It's an important message we've got to get out and we will be speaking to the council about getting warning signs by the cliffs,' added Mr Hewitt. 'It's something I feel is lacking. We want to keep the beach busy and keep it safe.'
He added beach lifeguards are only on duty between June and September, but the safety message must apply all year round.