August 5, 2008

Tragedy at the Beach ; Sandslides, Cliffs, Quicksand and Inflatables Hold Dangers

COASTGUARDS reminded parents and children enjoying the school holidays yesterday that many hidden dangers lurk along Wales' beautiful coastline.

Sunday's accident at Cefn Sidan is not the first time a youngster has been killed after excavating unstable sand.

In August 1922 Edward Buxton, 11, of Manchester was killed after tunnelling in sand atHarlech, Gwynedd, and Andrew Baxter, 13, died in similar circumstances at Burry Port in August 1960.

Yesterday Dave Hughes, watch manager at Swansea Coastguard, said: "With school holidays in full swing, we want to warn families to be aware of the dangers of tunnelling in sand.

"Wet sand, as we have had today after rain, makes it easier for tunnelling, but sand is always very unstable and heavy and can collapse at any time."

Quicksand is another danger at some popular Welsh beaches, including Lligwy on Anglesey and Talacre, Flintshire.

The sand may look little different on the surface, but anyone walking on it could find their feet sinking well below the surface. The suction effect can be too strong for them to break free.

Coastguards use pressurised water to make the sand more fluid.

Ray Carson, watch manager at Holyhead coastguard, said: "The message is to stay calm and dial 999 and ask for assistance, if you can, or shout for assistance. Try to attract attention somehow. If you're wriggling, you're making the situation worse."

He said dangerous objects, including drums of chemicals, sometimes came ashore along the Welsh coastline.

"There's a fair amount of ordnance that gets washed up on the beaches. Some is ex-military, from exercises on the Irish Sea.

"We've had occasions where there's phosphorous in these things. They dry out and burst into flames."

Jelly fish and weaver fish, which lie just beneath the sand's surface at the water's edge, can sting beach visitors in summer.

Many parents may not appreciate the potential dangers of allowing their children to play on water with inflatable ride-on toys.

MrCarsonsaid: "Nobody wants to be a killjoy. We've all had kids and know what they get up to.

"Some of these inflatables that people buy these days cost pounds 40 to pounds 70. If you're going to splash out that sort of money, spend a few pounds on a length of line to tie to the inflatable. A clothes line from a hardware shop is adequate.

"Somebody has to stand at the water's edge and attend to that line while the children are playing. An onshore wind will blow the children onto the beach, but it can quickly change into an offshore wind. These things skip across the water at an alarming rate."

Last Friday fishermen returning to New Quay, Ceredigion, picked up a girl and boy, aged 13 and 14 respectively, who were drifting some way from Cei Bach Beach on a rubber inflatable.

On the following day, the Criccieth lifeboat crew rescued 20 people who had been cut off by the rising tide near Porthmadog.

Mr Carson said beaches where the tide went far out appeared to be flat, but might have undulating surfaces. "It's very easy for the tide to flow in behind you and cut you off on a sandbank."

He said anyone who found themselves adrift on an inflatable or in a boat should remain in or with the vessel, to give rescuers a larger target to spot in the sea.

He also warned that swimming was more taxing in the sea than in a swimming pool where there were no currents and the temperature was comfortable and constant.

On a fine summer's day, seawater might be pleasantly warmin the shallows - where it was warmed by hot sand - but further out the water was colder.

"If you're cold, your swimming will be impaired," he said.

On Sunday afternoon a nine-year-old boy was rescued from a cliff at Tenby's South Beach. The boy had climbed part-way down the cliff from the top before becoming stuck.

Mr Carson said: "Stay away from cliffs unless you're roped for climbing.

"After the last 10 to 14 days, where we've had so much rain, the top of cliffs can be very soft. There's every possibility they can crumble if you walk too close to the edge."

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