Loch Gairloch canoe tragedy claims four as little girl dies

Man still missing after he and his children were swept away on a Scottish loch on Sunday

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The Independent Online

A five-year-old girl who was on a canoe which capsized in a Scottish sea loch died in hospital last night, bringing the total number of people feared dead to four.

Gracie Mackay passed away at Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow after being found face down in the water following the accident near Ullapool on Sunday afternoon, police said.

Two young brothers from another family were earlier confirmed drowned, and their father Fraser Beaton, 32, was still missing last night. Rescuers said it would be a "miracle" if he was found alive.

Northern Constabulary confirmed in a statement that "five-year-old Gracie Mackay from the Muir of Ord area has sadly passed away".

The family of Ewen Beaton, five, and younger brother Jamie, two, said they were "utterly devastated" by the loss of their "two little boys". They were recovered from the water and airlifted to hospital but later pronounced dead. The Beaton family said: "We appreciate all that has and is being done by emergency services to find their adoring father, Ewen. It is too difficult to say anything more at this time and we would appreciate our family being left in peace to grieve our terrible loss."

Gracie's 35-year-old father and eight-year-old sister were also on board the six-man Canadian canoe on Loch Gairloch but managed to make the arduous 500m swim to shore where they alerted rescuers.

The eight-year-old, who was uninjured, was praised by police for her "extreme courage".

Both families were from the Inverness area. Ewen Beaton was a primary one pupil at Teanassie Primary School near Beauly, where his brother was due to start nursery. Acting headteacher Alison Donald said: "As we are a small community, the school, parents and the wider community will feel this loss deeply."

Ann Aaron, an eyewitness, described how Gracie's father collapsed exhausted in a heap as he told onlookers there were children in the water.

Of the eight-year-old girl, she said: "I just think she was very brave. She was just a normal wee girl who was cold and wet and we did our best to look after her until we got her back to the (nearby) caravan site."

James Cameron, 34, who co-runs the Sands Caravan and Camping site in Gairloch, Wester Ross, said he and a friend found the five-year-old girl and tried to resuscitate her. "She had her buoyancy aid on. It was keeping her afloat but it wasn't keeping her head out the water," he said. A helicopter and lifeboats from Portree, Gairloch and Loch Ewe joined locals in the rain and wind to search 60 square miles of water and shoreline.

It is not known what caused the accident in the popular water sports area, although rescuers said the canoe involved was cheap and easy to overturn. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the search had become a recovery mission. Peter Godding, sector manager for Stornoway Coastguard, said: "We've got one missing person who is a male adult. He has been in the water a very long time, if he is in the water... Miracles do happen sometimes, so there's always that at the back of our minds."