Two men have described the moment they put their own lives at risk to help rescue six girls who were being dragged out to sea.
The teenagers – some of whom were on inflatables – got into trouble on Monday afternoon after a rip current and the wind started pulling them away from the shore off Lunan Bay in Angus.
Local ranger Owen Barron and retired vet Andrew Matthews went to their aid – working together to get them safely back to the beach.
But Mr Matthews, 68, almost got into difficulty himself – as he got caught in the rip current too once the girls were safe.
Mr Barron, 22, said: “I was at the estuary when I saw the girls out on the water.
“One had a rubber ring, one was in a lilo while the others were bobbing about in the water and swimming.
“Something didn’t look right to me and I tried to find out if anyone on shore was with them but no one knew who they were.”
Concerned that the girls were being taken out to sea, Mr Barron ran into the water to try to shout instructions to them.
But he realised there was a problem and he alerted the coastguard before going back into the water.
‘They were panicking and crying’
He said: “I waded out but was conscious of not getting out of my depth. I could tell that by this time they were panicking and crying and getting very scared.
“I was tempted to try to swim to them but I realised that would have made things even worse.”
Eventually Mr Barron was able to guide them closer to where he was standing – and managed to pull them into water they could stand up in.
Meanwhile Mr Matthews – who was having a paddle at the water’s edge – realised there was a problem and made the decision to go into the water, though he admits it nearly “cost me dearly”.
He said: “I entered the water to chest height and attempted to call out instructions to the girls to swim themselves northwards, parallel to the waves.
In hindsight I recognise my decision to swim to the girls was probably a poor one.
“They clearly could not hear me, and I made the decision to swim to the girls to help guide them out.
“I had no means of communicating with Owen, however I assumed that he had called the emergency services, but had no idea when they would arrive.
“In hindsight I recognise my decision to swim to the girls was a probably a poor one.”
Between the two of them, they managed to get the girls to safety – but Mr Matthews was still in the water and being pulled out to sea himself.
He said: “At this point I was becoming chilled and exhausted, and having seen them heading to safety I broke away from the girls to tread water, rest and consider my options.
“I was immediately and alarmingly pulled back into the middle of the estuary, and found myself in a very bad place.
“I knew I had to simply float and propel myself as best I could along the line of the breaking waves to the south, and hope to be ‘surfed’ in to the shore.”
He says he was eventually pulled into the shore – where his wife was waiting – “mostly by luck”.
He added: “I hauled myself out, utterly spent and hugely relieved. I have no idea how long I had been in the water.
“This situation could easily have ended very badly, had Owen not been present on the estuary as the emergency unfolded.
‘There could have been fatalities’
“Had he not acted with great common sense, courage, presence of mind and professionalism, there would most likely have been some delay in the emergency response and quite possibly as a result, fatalities.”
Mr Matthews, who is the vice-chairman of Lunan Bay Communities Partnership, is now calling for warning signs to be put up at the beauty spot.
He has also warned the public about the use of cheap inflatable toys, lilos and paddleboards.
He said: “These are rapidly becoming more common at Lunan Bay, as are increased numbers of visitors entering the water with these inflatables.
Inflatables give people ‘misplaced confidence’
“These inflatables give people the misplaced confidence to go greater distances offshore, with little knowledge of tides, winds and currents.
“They are accidents waiting to happen, and quite simply should be banned from Lunan Bay and from the national shoreline.”
He added: “The LBCP and its rangers cannot be held responsible for the safety of visitors using the river or sea for recreation.
“The rangers will assist with rescue where necessary and can act as primary contacts with the emergency services. But they are not lifeguards.”
The incident came after a weekend of tragedy at open water sites across Scotland.