More than 50 people taking part in a charity swimming race had to be pulled from the sea after more than 130 swimmers got into difficulty off the coast of Southwold, in Suffolk.
Four lifeboats and a rescue helicopter were involved in the operation after reports that up to 90 people participating in the Southwold Pier to Pub Swim had gone missing. Lifeguards helped a further 27 people who were unable to continue swimming against the strong tide.
It was later revealed that two swimmers, including a woman from the Kettering area, were unaccounted for despite rescue efforts. They were both later found unharmed.
Two people were taken to Paget University Hospital in Great Yarmouth with suspected hypothermia.
A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokeswoman said it was unclear how the swimmers got into trouble as weather conditions were fine but the water was “very cold”. The mile-long event was due to start at noon.
Some swimmers were rescued by lifeboat while a number of people swam to the shore themselves. Everyone pulled from the water was conscious and there were no reported fatalities.
Eyewitnesses spoke about the exhausted swimmers coming out of the sea and being wrapped in towels, while a lifeboat hut close to the pier was turned into a makeshift emergency centre.
James Dawson told the Norwich Evening News: “It was really, really tough conditions and people were coming out of the water looking exhausted.”