Belfast Telegraph

Ballycastle sea rescue hero plays down bravery in saving three kids

By Victoria Leonard

The humble Co Antrim hero who rescued three children from the sea at Ballycastle has issued a plea for parents to keep an eye on their youngsters in the water, particularly holidaymakers unfamiliar with the coast.

Despite "not being the strongest swimmer", Ballyvoy joiner and carpenter Nataniel 'Nat' Hunter (34) waded into the cold sea on Wednesday night to save two girls and a boy aged 10, 11 and 12. The children were holidaying in Ballycastle, and were swept out to sea by strong currents.

They were taken to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, but have since been discharged.

Nataniel said: "At this time of year so many families come to the north coast on holidays who aren't familiar with the beaches and undercurrents.

"Luckily this time there was a happy ending, but there have been tragedies in the past.

"I would say to parents to keep an eye on their children while they are in the water. Everyone should be able to enjoy our coastline, but kids can get into difficulty very quickly."

His mum Dolores agreed, saying: "At this time of year you see so many children running round Ballycastle, which is great, but safety should always come first.

"I am so proud that Nataniel was able to help these children and bring them to safety."

Nat told the Belfast Telegraph that he and his wife Amy were walking their dog on the beach at around 7.30pm when they noticed the three youngsters playing in the Margy River.

"We kept an eye on them as we walked by, as the river had been swollen over the last week due to high rainfall. When we walked back down we saw that they had been swept out to sea," he said.

"They were distressed, crying and visibly panicked, with the youngest girl about 50 metres out and the oldest 30 metres from the shore.

"A crowd of about 20 people had gathered on the promenade and on the beach, and the emergency services were called."

Seeing the children in distress, Nataniel and another man braved the frigid waters ahead of the emergency services' arrival.

"I got a buoyancy aid from a stand along the beach and myself and a young fella called Jordan went in," he explained.

"The first girl closest to shore was the strongest swimmer and we were able to pull her in, and Jordan took her onto the shore.

"I carried on as I had the buoyancy aid, and I came across the wee boy, who had a rubber ring around his waist. I was able to pull him over to me and then throw the buoyancy aid, which was on a tether, to the other girl and pull her towards me.

"The water was up to about chin height at that stage, and I walked in to shore with the two of them. I'm not the strongest of swimmers, so if not for the buoyancy aid I don't know if I could have swum out to bring her in.

"When I got them to the beach a lot of the bystanders covered the kids with jackets to warm them up, then the Coastguard and Ambulance Service arrived with the proper medical gear and blankets for hypothermia. I hope the kids involved are feeling better and will make a full recovery with no lasting effects."

Modest Nataniel, whose parents own nearby Hunters Bar, said his phone hadn't stopped ringing since.

"I feel slightly uncomfortable with all the attention - there were a lot of people on the beach so it was only a matter of time before someone got them," he said. "I was just in the right place at the right time.

"I wouldn't be someone who craves the limelight, but everyone has been talking about it and I have been getting a bit of a ribbing about it from my teammates at Carey Faughs GAC - they even Photoshopped my face and that of my pug Hugo onto the bodies of David Hasselhoff and Zac Efron from Baywatch!"

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