Belfast Telegraph

Three children pulled from freezing sea in Ballycastle after heroic swimmer dives in to save them

By Jonathan Bell

This is the modest hero who charged into the sea to rescue three young children who got swept out by currents off the beach at Ballycastle.

Nataniel Hunter was out walking his dog with his wife Amy when they spotted three young children struggling in the water and screaming for help yesterday evening.

"It's what you do," he told the Belfast Telegraph from his family pub in Ballyvoy just outside the Co Antrim town.

"Anyone would have done the same."

The coastguard put in place a major rescue operation - the second within hours in Northern Ireland yesterday - after multiple 999 calls to them just after 7.30pm.

Lifeboats and a helicopter were scrambled to the scene.

However, the three young children- two girls and a boy aged 10, 11 and 12 - were already on the shore by the time the emergency services arrived on the scene, thanks to Nataniel's bravery.

"I think they were playing in the Margy River, which had swollen with the rain and they got caught out by the tides," said the 34-year-old joiner, who is well used to the sea off Ballycastle as he would regularly use it to cool down after his hurling training.

"It wasn't the warmest," he continued.

"The furthest child out was probably about 50 metres or so out by the time I got to them.

"I took a buoyancy aid with a 25-metre tether and went out to the two that were the furthest out.

"I got to the point I could throw it and was able to tow them in.

"I was able to stand up most of the way.

"Another fella went after the other girl who was closer to shore and brought her in.

"They were panicking and distressed and maybe in shock, but thankfully okay."

Nataniel left the children with the paramedics on the shore and headed off for a warm shower.

The Coastguard said the children were safe after their ordeal, adding that they were left cold and shaken. The operation was stood down around an hour after the first emergency calls.

A large crowd of people gathered at the scene to witness the dramatic events unfold.

"It could have got out of hand very easily," said a Coastguard spokeswoman.

She said the children had lost their footing before the current dragged them from the shallow waters of the beach and into the sea.

She thanked all those who called to report the incident and all those who helped with the rescue.

"If it wasn't for those people this could have been a whole lot worse," she added.

"Those first few seconds are valuable and cannot be got back."

The Coastguard urged people to be vigilant in the summer waters, saying currents could be deceptive and the sea very dangerous.

Parents were urged to supervise their children at all times in the water.

Nataniel laughed off his new hero status and said he will be back at work this morning for business as usual.

"A man in a boat arrived shortly after us, so he would have got them," he said.

"I had to do something, it could have been a tragedy - it's just one of the things you do.

"Anyone would have done the same."

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