A Scottish mother has told of the frantic moment when she heard her boyfriend’s son scream, ‘Am I going to die?’ when two boys were blown into the sea on an inflatable dinghy.
Laura Gallagher was looking forward to a day out with her husband Kern, 34, their sons Nathan, seven, Jamie, four, and their friends Sarah and Robert Keenan who brought their son Findlay, also seven, with them.
The group headed for a family day out at Thortonloch Beach in East Lothian on July 17, before events took a terrifying turn.
The three boys had enjoyed playing in the North Sea on a dinghy, but when Jamie got out, it affected the weight of the light craft and it suddenly began to float in deep waters—with Nathan and Findlay still aboard.
Laura, 31, recalled the horrific ordeal and said she could hear the boys screaming “they were going to die” as the ship lifted off.
Laura, a pharmacy manager from Dunbar, said: ‘One minute they were standing next to me and the next they were blown away. It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Laura Gallagher, 31, frantically jumped into the sea off Thortonloch Beach in East Lothian in an attempt to rescue her son Nathan and friend Findlay after their dinghy started drifting off shore
“It’s a beach we always go to. I had even been there earlier that week with the kids and the dinghy. It was rougher that day, but with light winds and I held them the whole time.
“On that Saturday we set up a base and the husbands went for a picnic while the children went to the sea with the mothers.
‘It was windy, but the sea was calmer than it had been. That’s why I made the mistake of not holding on.
“All three children were in the boat first. They were playing within feet of Sarah and me.
“Then Jamie got out and maybe it was the change in weight that lifted him up, but the boat shot away.”
The quick-thinking mother decided to jump into the water to save the young boys and swam frantically to bring them back to shore.
Laura said, “I went after them, but I soon realized I had to swim. I had my suit on, so I took off my dress and went after them.
“I was sure I would reach them. They were only about six feet away, but I couldn’t close the gap. I swam breaststroke and turned into front crawl to try and accelerate.
Laura, 31, recalled the horrific ordeal and said she could hear the boys screaming ‘they were going to die’ as the ship lifted off
“Still, they kept running away from me.
“I looked around and realized how far from the shore we were. Sarah and my husband had also started swimming but stopped because they were not strong swimmers.
“Then I saw another man in a wetsuit swim in from a different angle. I thought he would reach them, but they were too far away for him.
‘I called back to shore, ‘Did you call the lifeboat?’ I think a few people on the beach had already called for help.
‘I had to keep swimming. The boys were now crying. Findlay said, “Am I going to die?”
“I yelled at them, ‘I’m here, I’m here. Hold on tight. Stay in the boat. You won’t die.’
“They were only two meters away from me, but now they were 50 meters away.”
Fortunately, there was a monitoring vessel for a ‘walking’ vessel doing geotechnical surveys for the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm.
The crew saw what was happening and came to their aid.
Laura said, “I saw the boat coming towards them and called out to the boys to get them. The boat gave them a spacious berth.
‘There were men on each side and they managed to get the dinghy and got them both out and the boat.
“I had a huge sigh of relief. They came for me, but it was a struggle to get me on board. My legs were jelly and I was coughing. I don’t think I swallowed water, but it splashed in my mouth.’
Laura hopes that by sharing the experience, she can make others think about bringing similar inflatables to the beach.
Laura said, “Luckily the boys are doing well. However, since then they have asked many questions, such as what would have happened if the boat hadn’t come. My son had a bad dream about it.
“We took them to meet the workmen in Eyemouth and they got the boys back on board and I think that really helped them get over their shock.”
Gary Fairbairn, helmsman at RNLI Dunbar Lifeboat Station, said: ‘We want people to have fun on the beach, but Laura’s story shows how quickly things can get very dangerous. Fortunately the surveillance vessel was close by to help’
She said of the inflatable dinghy: ‘We bought it on holiday in Portugal and took it home. I would never do anything to endanger my children, but it never occurred to me that something like this could happen so quickly.
“I blame myself, but I was only a few feet away — that’s how quickly something like this can happen.
“The dinghy has gone in the trash. The boys joined in and it was well and truly kicked before we threw it out.’
Laura added: “I just want to thank the crew of the ship that rescued us, the crew of the RNLI lifeboat, who helped us get ashore and was very reassuring, and we are the caravan owner and others on the beach that the coast guard called.’
Gary Fairbairn, helmsman at RNLI Dunbar Lifeboat Station, said: ‘We want people to have fun on the beach, but Laura’s story shows how quickly things can get very dangerous. Fortunately, the surveillance vessel was close by to help.
‘Inflatable dinghies look nice, but they are not suitable for our beaches where high winds can pick up at any time.
“We are grateful to Laura for sharing her story as a warning to others.”