Rescuers save swimmers after ‘phenomenal’ water speeds endanger Firth of Forth race

Stock image of a RNLI lifeboat. South Queensferry leapt into action to save swimmers on Saturday. Picture: TSPL
Stock image of a RNLI lifeboat. South Queensferry leapt into action to save swimmers on Saturday. Picture: TSPL
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Organisers of a popular swimming event have pledged to review safety procedures after a number of participants had to be pulled from the Firth of Forth due to the rapid current.

Coastguard and RNLI crews were called into action to save helpless swimmers who had been swept under the last bridge arch battling against a fierce tide.

Winds of 13mph were expected but that figure doubled in the final third of the annual race with the water moving at a “phenomenal” rate.

A record 214 entered Saturday’s 1.4 mile swim from South Queensferry with only 190 reaching the finish point at the old pier at North Queensferry.

Participant Melanie McAinsh, 56, said: “It was all fun until we got closer to the end and the speed of the water was just phenomenal.

“There was a group of people who got flushed under last bridge arch. I was trying so hard to get back on track but the current was too strong.

“We got timed out because the river needs to be opened up for boats again.

“The lifeboat crew were excellent and saved me and another girl who was very cold. I’m disappointed to have not finished because it was a really good event.”

The RNLI lifeboat from South Queensferry was sent to the Firth of Forth Swim 2018, along with Coastguard Rescue Teams just after 3pm.

It followed a number of reports to HM Coastguard that safety boats were struggling to cope with the conditions with one of the four in operation breaking down.

The Kinghorn RNLI lifeboat was also brought to immediate readiness to launch as a further precaution and the Scottish Ambulance Service was in attendance.

RNLI Duty commander Mark Rodaway OBE said: “An extensive search of the area was conducted until we were able to ascertain from the organisers that everyone had been accounted for.”

Organisers Vigour Events has vowed to make improvements to their safety protocol as a result of the incident.

Robert Hamilton said: “We will review what happened on Saturday and see what we need to improve on for next year. Safety is our number one priority.

“We will make sure we have better local knowledge and have more safety boats, possibly six or seven, with back-up too so we don’t have to rely on the RNLI. The lifeboat was called because one of our safety boats had broken down after hitting a wave.

“We were expecting winds of around 13mph and gusts of 17mph but towards the end of the race they were in the high 20s and the speed of the water was really fast.

“Unfortunately this was unpredictable and completely out of our control. We had a lot of local support from swimming coaches, kayakers and power boat operators who were fantastic.

“Out of the 214 people who entered the race, 190 completed it. It is a huge shame not everyone could finish but these things can happen at events such as this.

“A lot of people have contacted us enjoying the race which attracted a record amount of entrants. We thank the Coastguard and RNLI for their fantastic support.”

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