Jetski hero praised as swimmer fights for life

The helicopter landing at West Wittering beach on July 21, 2013'PICS BY LEN TYLER
The helicopter landing at West Wittering beach on July 21, 2013'PICS BY LEN TYLER

THE JETSKIER who rescued drowning swimmers has been praised this week, after three men got into difficulties in the sea at West Wittering.

Seven ambulances, police and the coastguard helicopter all rushed to the beach on Sunday evening as ‘all hell broke loose’ when three men, who were stuck on a sandbank, became ‘overwhelmed’ by the incoming tide.

Eyewitness Gemma Rowe was visiting the beach from Fareham with her partner and friends.

She described how one of the lifeguards suddenly threw herself in the water as a man was seen struggling out at sea.

While saving him, one of the rescuers spotted two other men floating face down in the water.

A number of people rushed out to help, including a jetski rider from West Wittering Windsurfing Club.

Kelvin Storey was in the shallow water watching the drama unfold.

He said while the rescuers were helping the first man, he could see a ‘dark object’ floating further away in the water, which one of the rescuers suddenly started swimming towards.

“I then realised it was a person as the swimmer reached him,” he said.

“The jetski rider happened to be passing the swimmer and helped the swimmer and the submerged man onto the back of the jetski.”

He said they ran aground on the beach near him and he helped drag the victim up the beach.

“The lifeless man was pulseless and foam was pouring from his mouth. By all accounts he was dead.”

Two lifeguards then began trying to resuscitate him while the jetski rider continued to check everyone still in the water was safe.

When paramedics arrived, one of the swimmers who had been face down in the water was given oxygen while the second man, in a less serious condition, lay nearby.

Having been rescued from the water, the swimmer who first attracted attention did not appear to need medical help.

Gemma was helping to keep the crowds back and attended the second man.

“He was breathing, his eyelids were flickering.

“I was asking him to squeeze my hand.”

She hailed the rescuer who had first spotted the two men drowning, who then flagged down the jetskier.

“He’s definitely the one that saved the day otherwise this guy would have been floating for who knows how long.”

The men were airlifted from the scene, near West Strand, by the coastguard helicopter – two to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth and one to St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester.

As of Tuesday evening, the worst-affected of the trio, at QA Hospital, was described as in a ‘stable’ condition and had been moved to a ward to continue treatment.

The other two were discharged.

Eyewitnesses said the men, who were in their 20s, and visiting from London, had been drinking excessively throughout the day with friends, before going in the water.

Eyewitness account

BEACHGOER Rosie Forrest Foster, from Guildford, hailed the jetskier as ‘the hero of the day’, as he collected the men.

“It was crazy because I was sat at the top of the beach and there was a massive crowd of people – everyone wanted to help.

“It was really, really good of West Wittering rescue staff.”

She also praised paramedics who sped to the scene.

“The first paramedics sprinted,” she said.

“One of them sprinted so fast that he nearly fell over.”

She also commented how powerful the water had been on the day.

“I’m a really strong swimmer and literally the current was trying to take me away. It was a very strong current.”

She said she had been sat right next to the group who had gone into the water and they had been drinking all day.

“I genuinely thought one of the gentlemen was dead,” she said. “I genuinely thought that was it, I really did.

“I do wish them the best of luck with recovery.”

Warning

Experts warned of the dangers of drinking before swimming following the incident.

A spokesman for the West Wittering Estate said: “Weather conditions change, and the beach, tides and sand bars are dynamic. It needs to be stressed that, irrespective of ability, swimming from a beach or in a coastal environment is very different to a controlled environment such as a swimming pool.

“Drinking alcohol during these prolonged hot days leaves visitors both dehydrated and vulnerable, especially if they choose to swim in the sea.”

Matt West, watch manager at Solent MRCC, said: “If you are heading out for a swim, check the sea conditions and remember that even though the sea may look calm on the surface, there is the danger of strong currents underneath.

“Always check tide times as well so that you can avoid being cut off by the incoming tide.

“If you see someone in difficulty, you should call 999 immediately and ask for the coastguard.”

The rescue comes a little over a year after a Plamen Petkov, 32, lost his life at West Wittering, when he saved a five-year-old girl from drowning.

Hailed as a ‘hero’, he passed away on May 26, 2012.

A fundraising page was set up at http://www.rnli.tributefunds.com/fund/Plamen+Petkov|rnli.tributefunds.com/fund/Plamen+Petkov} by family and friends of Mr Petkov in aid of the RNLI.