Page last updated at 06:39 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 07:39 UK

Six rescued in lough raft drama

rescue boat
A major operation was launched to rescue the young people

Six young people who drifted out onto Belfast Lough on a makeshift polystyrene raft are "very lucky to be alive", the coastguard has said.

Three boats, two helicopters and a passing surfer helped rescue the young people, aged 12 - 18, from the water at Whiteabbey on Tuesday.

Three were treated in hospital for mild hypothermia. None of the youths was wearing a lifejacket.

Belfast Coastguard Alan Pritchard said they had been in "very real danger".

The youths had assembled a makeshift raft from polystyrene blocks, nailed together with bits of timber, and were attempting to cross Belfast Lough.

But they began to drift quite rapidly due to the breeze and got into difficulty at about 2030 BST on Tuesday.

The coastguard received numerous 999 calls from members of the public, leading to the major rescue operation.

One passing motorist, who happened to be a surfer, got into the water and paddled out about a mile.

Emergency services responded after the youths got into difficulties
Emergency services responded after the youths got into difficulties

By this stage, two of the youths were in the vicinity of the shipping lane.

"The shipping lane is a busy area and obviously the depth of water and the temperature of the water could have led to six fatalities," said Mr Pritchard.

"The surfer actually went past one youth who was crying for help in the water. At the time they would have been extremely frightened.

"The surfer managed to get to a shore, four others made their way back to the beach again, three had to be taken to the Mater Hospital for treatment for mild hypothermia. Three other youths disappeared."

Two of those involved in the incident were 18, three were 16, and the other was 12.

Bangor RNLI Inshore Lifeboat and Portmuck Coastguard were alerted to the incident along with a pilot boat and a police helicopter. The Irish Coastguard helicopter was also alerted.

Mr Pritchard said this year there had been an increase in the number of incidents around Northern Ireland.

"Possibly the credit crunch, people aren't going abroad, and people will find ingenious ways to pass their time and use leisure time on the water," he said.



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