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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 21:58 GMT
Boy saved after sea drama
Redcar lifeboat
Redcar lifeboat reached the boy 800 metres from shore
A schoolboy was left drifting in the North Sea only minutes from death after a "million-to-one" coincidence during a sea rescue.

Chris Whaites, 12, found himself in difficulties as he practised on his bodyboard off the coast of Redcar, in north-east England on Sunday.

Lifeboats were scrambled to answer the 999 call but, by chance, a windsurfer got into difficulties at the same time.

Teesmouth lifeboat picked-up the windsurfer, not knowing there was a second person in trouble. Chris was left in the sea.

'Sheer coincidence'

He was rescued minutes later by the Redcar lifeboat which was launched when it was realised there was still someone in the water.

Dave Cammish, launching authority for Redcar's lifeboat, was listening to the rescue at home on his VHF radio.

Realising that someone was still in danger, he launched the Redcar lifeboat at 1542 GMT. It found Chris 800 metres off shore.

Mr Cammish told BBC News Online: "There was a flood of calls to the lifeboat that someone was in trouble off the coast.

RLNI logo
Ms Whaites praised the actions of the lifeboat crews

"By sheer coincidence the calls were about two very similar incidents, in roughly the same area at exactly the same time.

"It wasn't until the lifeboat from Teesmouth picked up the windsurfer that I realised there were still 999 calls coming in and that that somebody might still be in the water.

"Until then, there was no way of Teesmouth lifeboat knowing the emergency calls were about two separate incidents."

Instead of playing by the rule book and contacting the coastguard to discuss it, Mr Cammish gave the order to launch the Redcar lifeboat immediately.

The lifeboat crew from Redcar discovered Chris lying face down in the water.

'Near death'

Mr Cammish added: "I would guess he was only one to three minutes from death.

"The lifeboat helmsman said when they reached him he was gurgling, lying flat on the surface of the water.

"He was very, very lucky.

"It was a million-to-one coincidence."

Chris, from Redcar, told BBC News Online he had been bodyboarding with a friend when they realised the tide had taken them out to sea.

His friend managed to make it to shore and raise the alarm.

Chris's mother, Nicki Whaites, rushed to the beach where she watched as the first lifeboat returned without her son.

Actions praised

Chris told BBC News Online: "I was really scared. I was out there by myself for about 20 minutes and I didn't think anyone was coming to help me.

"I could feel myself drifting further out to sea and I was really, really cold."

Mrs Whaites praised the quick actions of the lifeboat crews.

"I can't thank them enough for all their help, they deserve all the praise they get.

"I'm still feeling very, very shaky, but I'm also feeling extremely lucky."

Click here to go to BBC Tyne Online
See also:

21 Oct 01 | England
Surfer dies in 'heavy waves'
08 Sep 01 | UK
Six rescued from sea
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