Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 13:02 UK

Beach rescue event 'never again'

South Beach, Tenby
The sand at South Beach, Tenby, shifted beneath the group

An organiser of an action camp that saw a group of 40 children and adults rescued from the sea says the group will never run the exercise again.

Bill Fitzgerald said he gave the go-ahead for the group to wade backwards into the water at Tenby, Pembrokeshire moments before the sandbank collapsed.

Coastguards said some of the group would have died if lifeguards on patrol nearby had not reacted so soon.

Pembrokeshire council said it will review warning signs on the beach.

The young people, aged 10 to 20 and from many parts of Wales, were on a team-building exercise and were walking backwards into the sea on Tenby's South Beach, arms linked and singing.

An RNLI guard was already heading out to call the 36 children and four adults back to shore when they were plunged into the water as the exposed sandbank they were standing on collapsed.

Bill Fitzgerald
The fact that lifeguards were parked there gave us the security and the knowledge that we could run the exercise
Bill Fitzgerald, Action Camp

The group were on a three-day seaside break organised by a group called Action Camp, based in Caerphilly, which organises confidence-boosting breaks for youngsters from deprived areas of Wales.

Project leader Mr Fitzgerald said the exercise was undertaken only on a life-guarded beach. He said weather conditions were fine at the time.

He added that the group had been split into groups of eight, each with an adult, and were observed by two qualified swimmers.

He said: "We tried to make a balanced decision, that there was, what we felt was a small risk, and if anything did happen we were in a good position to act ourselves and with the help of the lifeguards.

"The risk assessment is dynamic and does change as risks become apparent. Obviously we've pulled that exercise and it will never be done again."

Sandbank warning sign
The warning sign was adjacent to the beach used by the group

Mr Fitzgerald, who was on the beach, said he did not see a sign which warned about the sandbank. Pembrokeshire Council said the signs was "quite clear" but said it will carry out a review of warning signs on the beach.

Mr Fitzgerald said: "We have been doing this exercise for three years. I lived in Pembrokeshire for eight years. I've never heard of this (sandbank)."

He said the RNLI lifeguards patrolling the beach had their 4x4 vehicles parked 12ft (3.5m away).

He accepted that the group were outside the red and yellow flags indicating the limits of the bathing beach but said lifeguards were patrolling nearby.

He added: "We've certainly learnt that lesson. The fact that lifeguards were parked there gave us the security and the knowledge that we could run the exercise."

'Risks'

Mr Fitzgerald said lifeguards had walked up to the group, urging them to come out of the water as the sandbank was not safe. Moments later is gave way.

Meanwhile, First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Secretary Peter Hain have praised the three lifeguards whose effort they said averted "what could have proved a major tragedy".

In a joint statement, they said: "There are many families in the Aman Valley and beyond who will be eternally grateful to Adam Pitman, Jon Johnston, Coral Lewis and their colleagues."



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