Girl, 12, dies after wave pulls three friends into rough seas

A 12-year-old schoolgirl, who was rescued from dangerous seas after being swept away with three friends while walking along a coastal walkway, died in hospital yesterday.

The girls were pulled from the North Sea at Seaton Sluice, near Blyth in Northumberland, on Saturday afternoon by a police officer, a woman and two fishermen using ropes and harnesses to overcome the heavy seas.

One of the surviving girls' mothers witnessed the frantic efforts to save the children, who had been playing on a concrete slipway but were caught by a "huge surge".

The friends were taken to North Tyneside hospital. But Jade Anderson, of Seghill, Northumberland, who was unconscious when she was recovered from the icy waters, died in the intensive-care unit yesterday morning.

The local coastguard had launched a land and sea search operation with the RAF, but the girls were rescued by PC Darren Purvis, who waded into the sea and pulled the youngsters to safety.

Speaking at a press conference, Inspector Neil Fraser, of Northumberland police, paid tribute to his colleague: "It was heroic. Had it not been for his actions there may well have been more dire consequences.

"He was very brave and has pulled two distressed girls from the scene in horrendous conditions."

Police used the downdraft from a rescue helicopter to help blow the struggling girls towards the shore.

The mother of one of the youngsters, Christine Douglas, whose daughter, Emma, 12, was swept into the sea, had been driving past when she noticed the helicopter.

She said: "It was a terrible shock to see the kids in the water. When I got to the ambulance, I could see Emma in the back and she started crying for me."

Emma said she had been "petrified" throughout the ordeal. She said: "We were walking along the rocks and the tide was coming, but only slowly. There was a huge surge and we were all swept off our feet."

Describing her rescue, she said: "I was so numb with cold and shock I couldn't get the harness over me, so I grabbed it and I was dragged out."

Emma and Katie Oldfield, 12, were treated for hypothermia and later released. The other girl, Beth Gardner, 13, remained in a stable condition in hospital last night.

Tom Moran, head teacher of Seaton Sluice Middle School, where Jade was one of the 296 pupils, said the entire community was devastated by the tragedy.

Mr Moran said: "The whole community is devastated and deeply shocked by the tragic events of the weekend. Our immediate thoughts are with Jade's family and friends."

Gale-force winds yesterday claimed another two lives as a 74-year-old man and his 68-year-old wife were killed when their car hit a tree blocking a road near Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

The tree was one of many to fall in the region as wind speeds reached 70mph and left thousands of homes without power.

In the Lake District, 10 members of a Scout group had to be rescued after becoming trapped in a cave at Dove Crag. The group, from Southport in Merseyside, were aged between 10 and 20 and were caught in heavy snow and gale-force winds. A rescue team from nearby RAF Bulmer brought the group down. Two of the group were treated for hypothermia.

In Pembrokeshire in Wales, four boys aged 11 and 12 were rescued by an RAF helicopter after becoming stranded on a beach by a rising tide.

Power cuts caused by high winds affected more than 1,000 homes in Staffordshire. Damaged overhead lines disrupted rail services, as trains were cancelled. In Scotland, ferry companies were forced to interrupt services to the western islands and Northern Ireland.

One elderly couple in Blackpool had a lucky escape when their bathroom was crushed by the wall of a neighbouring church.

The gable wall of St Mary's Church in South Shore collapsed early yesterday morning. The couple, who were asleep in the next room, were "very, very lucky to escape without injury", according to Ian Richards, a Lancashire fire officer.

The couple were evacuated, along with residents of four other houses nearby, and stayed overnight in the vicarage.

The high winds were dying last night and were expected to be replaced by freezing conditions.

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