AN OFF-DUTY RAF officer has told how he dived into the freezing Moray Firth to rescue an 11-year-old girl from drowning.
Rich Stinson, 43, was enjoying an afternoon at Lossiemouth’s east beach with his children when he spotted a young girl being swept out to sea.
The father-of-two, from Elgin, swam out to rescue the girl, who had been dragged away by a fierce riptide after swimming in the River Lossie.
He and the terrified youngster made it back ashore just as an emergency helicopter arrived and she was taken to hospital to be treated for shock.
The airman, an RAF flight lieutenant who works as a search-and-rescue co-ordinator at Kinloss Barracks, said he was relieved the youngster escaped serious harm.
Mr Stinson, who was there with children Chloe, five, and Charlie, two, said: “She was already about 50 metres out and obviously in a lot of trouble. The tide was taking her farther and farther from the beach.
“Although she was on a bodyboard, she kept slipping off. When I got to the girl, she was already well out of her depth and had swallowed a lot of water.
“I managed to get her back far enough to where I could stand up again, but even then the tide made it hard work.”
RAF Lossiemouth’s Rescue 137 helicopter was called to the incident, on Friday, along with coastguard teams from Lossiemouth and Burghead. But, in the short time it took for them to arrive, Mr Stinson had already got the girl back on land.
He said: “Co-ordinating rescues is my job but it was a first for me to be actually involved in one.”
Mr Stinson said the drama underlined the need for more warning signs at the popular beauty spot to prevent other day-trippers from getting into danger. He added: “It wouldn’t have appeared obvious to most parents that the sea might be dangerous. However, people who are familiar with the east beach at Lossie know that there can be very strong tides in the area where the river flows into the sea. I’d class myself as a strong swimmer but I was still surprised just how strong it was.
“There aren’t any lifeguards on the beach so I think more than one sign is needed to warn people.”
The only notice warning visitors not to swim near the breakwater is at least 300 yards from the sea. Mike Mulholland, of Lossiemouth Community Council, agreed another warning sign was needed on the beach. He said: “There is a sign but some people think it refers to the water under the bridge rather than the sea. Getting something else there is definitely something we will be looking at as a matter of urgency.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “The original call was that there were two males in the water at East Beach Lossiemouth, so we deployed, as did the coastguard and a search and rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth.”
The rescue was the second of its kind off the north-east coast in 48 hours. Two children were rescued by Fraserburgh lifeboat crew after they were swept out to sea on Wednesday afternoon.