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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Diver talks of 'amazing survival'
John Mallard. Picture Newsline Scotland
Mr Mallard swam about three-and-a-half miles to the shore
A diver who swam for three-and-a-half miles in appalling North Sea conditions has spoken of his ordeal.

John Mallard, 62, from Arbroath, had been with his son and a friend in the water near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, when he disappeared from their sight.

He managed to swim ashore and knocked on the door of a house in Inverbervie.

"I was determined to make it back," he said. "I was worried that my son hadn't made it and had to keep going because my daughter would be left with no-one."

Mr Mallard, a retired commercial diver, disappeared near Todhead Point, south of Stonehaven, on Friday while looking for lobsters.

I thought the search had been called off because it was dark - I thought they had given up on me
John Mallard

He became separated from his diving buddies when he returned to the surface and they continued with their dive.

A huge rescue operation was launched at 1940 BST after his son raised the alarm.

"When I got to the surface the weather had turned nasty and the tide was sweeping me out to sea," Mr Mallard said.

"It was getting dark and waves were coming over my head - I couldn't see anything.

"I filled up my life jacket with air from my tank and swam for it. I didn't know where my son Sean and his friend were, I didn't know if they had been swept out too.

"I thought that if they made it to shore then they would call the coastguard but I couldn't see them on the shore so I didn't know if anyone was coming for me."

Todhead point map showing Lossiemouth

Mr Mallard said it was thoughts of his family that kept him going.

"I could make out lights but did not really know where I was - I just kept those lights in sight and swam towards them but I kept being pushed back and I kept on swimming trying to find a safe place to get on land."

He could see the lifeboats and the helicopter scouring the area but they kept missing him.

"Every time I saw the helicopter or one of the boats I stopped in the water in the hope they would see me I had a flashing light but they couldn't see it," he said.

"I attached myself to a creel buoy hoping they would see me all the time I was being battered against the buoy - but they didn't see me and I got cramp but I forced myself to swim on.

The man looked exhausted and could hardly walk or stand
Lalita Sharma

"I thought the search had been called off because it was dark - I thought they had given up on me."

He eventually saw the bay and let the waves take him in.

"I was bowled on to the beach," he said. "I kept hold of my gear and headed up the beach towards the houses.

"I knocked on a door and a surprised looking woman gave me a cup of tea and let me use her phone.

"An ambulance came to check me out and I was fine so I went back home."

'Windy night'

Lalita Sharma had been watching TV at her home when she heard a knock at the door at about 2340 BST.

"There was this man wearing a diving suit at the door and asked to use the phone," the 52-year-old civil servant said.

"It was the last thing I was expecting. I had heard something about a search on the news and I realised that this was the same man who was missing.

The Sharma's house
Mr Mallard knocked on the door of a house in Inverbervie

"He looked exhausted and could hardly walk or stand," she said.

"I made him a cup of tea to warm him up and comfort him and then the ambulance people took over from there.

"He was lucky to be alive because it was such a cold and windy night out there - I am just glad that I was able to help in some way."

When Mr Mallard returned to his Arbroath home he had a hot bath, a cup of cocoa and went to bed.

'Amazing story'

"I just got up as normal the next day but I treated myself to a cooked breakfast, " he said.

"I felt great in the morning and went off for a seven-mile walk."

Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Portlethen and Montrose coastguard rescue teams had been involved in the four-hour operation.

A rescue helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was scrambled, the RNLI Montrose and Aberdeen lifeboats were launched and they were joined by a Maritime Rescue Institute lifeboat from Stonehaven.

Forth Coastguard Watch Manager Bob Abercrombie said "This is an amazing survival story. The diver had been missing for about four hours and we had begun to extend the search, by bringing in additional resources.

"The conditions for searching were not good with northerly force five winds, poor visibility, rough sea and rain, quite apart from the fact that it was dark for most of the search.

"This is a great result to an incident which at one point looked as though it would have quite a different outcome."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
John Mallard tells of survival ordeal



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