Belfast Telegraph

Tributes paid to girl pulled from the sea

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

An 11-year-old girl who died after being pulled from the sea off the north coast has been described as “fun-loving and friendly”.

Bethany Cousins, from the Wood Lane area of Lurgan, died after getting into difficulty in a dangerous stretch of water near Portballintrae on Sunday.

The girl’s father Alistair, a firefighter, tried in vain to rescue her from Bushfoot Strand — also known as Runkerry Beach or Black Rocks.

But he, too, struggled with the strong under-currents.

Bethany, who was body boarding, was pulled from the water by the Coastguard. But despite desperate resuscitation attempts on the shore she died in hospital several hours later.

At the family home in Co Armagh last night her heartbroken mother Ruth was too devastated to speak about their loss.

Bethany, who has two brothers, celebrated her 11th birthday just last month. She had been a pupil at King’s Park Primary School and was due to start at Lurgan Junior High School in September. She was also a keen member of the Girls Brigade.

Jill McClelland, captain with High Street Methodist Girls Brigade, described her as a “wee pet” who was adored by everyone.

“Beth’s sense of fun and friendliness endeared her to both girls and officers who are all devastated by the sad news,” she said.

Church of Ireland rector the Reverend Geoff Wilson said the community had been rallying round the family.

“We are all working hard to support them at this very difficult time,” he added. Bethany’s funeral service is expected to take place at Shankill Parish Church of Ireland today at 3pm.

DUP MLA for Upper Bann Stephen Moutray visited the family yesterday and said they had been left reeling.

“They are just broken,” he said.

“They are still in a state of shock. This is a tragedy for the family and our prayers go out to them at this difficult time.”

Mayor of Craigavon Carla Lockhart, who knows the family, said the entire community had been stunned by the awful news.

“I can not even begin to imagine the pain that her mum and dad are feeling.

“There are no words which readily come to mind to comfort the family other than to say that our thoughts and prayers are with them,” she added.

Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd, whose constituency includes Lurgan, has also expressed sympathy to the family.

There was some confusion surrounding access for ambulances to the beach at the time of the accident. It is understood medical crews were unable to get a vehicle on to Bushfoot Strand because bollards permitting cars had been locked and no key was available.

It took medics 13 minutes to get to Bethany, who was being given chest compressions by members of the Coastguard.

John McPoland, a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), said: “Sat nav co-ordinates identified the closest access point. From there the team made their way on foot — as there is no vehicular access — to the patient.

“On the arrival of a second crew the RRV (rapid response vehicle) was taken to an access point at the Giant’s Causeway Railway end which facilitates vehicular access on to the beach.

“Local NIAS officers are content that the access point used initially facilitated the earliest possible access to the patient.”

Aidan McPeake, director of environmental services with Moyle District Council, said: “Runkerry Beach is, unfortunately, not safe for swimming as there are strong rip tides and for that reason there are signs warning members of the public that bathing is dangerous.

“We are all very saddened by this incident and intend to hold a full review of all aspects of safety around Runkerry Beach.”

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