Father and son drown as rescue thwarted by fog

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The Independent Online

A father and son drowned despite making frantic mobile telephone calls to let coastguards and police know they were trapped on sandbanks by a rising tide in thick fog.

Police searching the area in freezing conditions could hear the man shouting but because of the strength of the incoming tide and the fog they could not locate him.

Stewart Rushton, 51, was found dead yesterday morning on the Cumbrian coast the day after he had gone missing with his son, Adam, 9, while walking on mud flats. The dead boy was found later in the day.

Mr Rushton, of Dalton, Cumbria, made several desperate calls on his mobile telephone to the coastguard and police when he and his son became marooned on the sand with water rapidly rising over them. The boy sat on his father's shoulders to stay out of the sea and in one of the last calls to the coastguard Mr Rushton said the water had reached his neck.

The dead man was found by his son-in-law who was searching in an area of sandbanks and mud flats at Bardsea on Morecambe Bay. The second body was found later in the afternoon further down the coast towards Barrow-in-Furness.

The pair had decided to go fishing at Priory Point, near Ulverston. Having left their fishing equipment in their red Suzuki jeep in a car park, they set out in waders for about 10 minutes on to the sand before realising they were in trouble. They were probably searching for bait. Fog tends to be thick on the Cumbrian coast at this time of year but on Saturday a spokesman for the coastguard said that it had gathered "exceptionally fast".

Mr Rushton contacted his wife to raise the alarm, who called the coastguard at 2.25pm. Mr Rushton then dialled 999 and explained to the emergency services how he and his son were lost on the beach in swirling fog. Mr Rushton was put through to police at about 2.30pm, saying he had left his car at Priory Point and that he and his son had walked for 10 minutes out on to the sand.

He made several more calls, which became increasingly desperate. A Liverpool Coastguard spokesman said he was the last person to speak to Mr Rushton at 3.07pm, when he said the water was up to his neck. His son answered the phone and said he was sitting on his father's shoulders. The spokesman added that the boy had said, "My dad is all right" before passing the phone to his father.

"The man was obviously cold and very worried. We could hear the sound of water and the father was shouting. I said 'Be reassured, we have got units coming to your assistance'."

Cumbria police said Mr Rushton told them in a separate phone call at 2.56pm that he had walked for about 10 minutes. Water was up to neck level and he was standing on a sandbank. Mr Rushton told police he could hear sirens but wanted to stay on the sandbank.

Police told him they did not want to run his battery down and they would phone him every few minutes. At 3.09pm they contacted the mobile phone again but no one answered.

Constable Tony Hawson, one of the first officers on the scene, said: "Some of the officers could hear him shouting but felt helpless because they could not get to him. The run of the tide made it impossible. He sounded as though he was a few hundred yards offshore but with the fog and the mist they couldn't tell where he was."

A search and rescue mission was launched involving three coastguard units, two lifeboat crews, tracker dogs, two mountain-rescue teams, the police and an RAF helicopter from RAF Valley, near Anglesey. But the search was hampered by bad weather and was called off at 8.45pm.

The search resumed yesterday when a large group of rescuers assembled at Walney Island at 8am. They were divided into eight teams of four, made up of coastguard and mountain rescue units. More groups were dispatched from other sites along the peninsula. The second body was found at 3.10pm.

Mr Rushton had four children with his wife, Joy.

The coastguard warned people yesterday to stay away from the area because fog was cutting visibility in an area of sandbanks and gulleys that is notoriously dangerous.

* An investigation has been started after two ferries collided yesterday in fog in the Channel near Dover. No one was injured when the Diamant SeaCat fast ferry, heading to Dover with 148 people on board, collided with the freight ferry Northern Merchant, on its way with 59 passengers to Dunkirk. The collision caused superficial damage and the vessels continued their journeys.

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