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Canoe man missing as young sons die

By Hilary Duncanson

Two young boys who were onboard a six-man canoe which capsized in a sea loch have died in hospital, police said.

The search for a man missing after a canoe accident in which his two young sons died is now a "recovery mission", the Coastguard said.

Six people from two families - two men and four children - were on board the boat when it capsized in Loch Gairloch, near Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands, yesterday afternoon.

The brothers, aged three and five, died last night after being plucked from the water and airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

A search for their father resumed this morning, although rescuers are now looking for a body.

A five-year-old girl from the other family is seriously ill after being hauled from the seawater loch.

She was initially airlifted to Broadford Hospital in Skye, but was transferred overnight by rescue helicopter to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill in Glasgow, where her parents are said to be with her.

Her 35-year-old father and eight-year-old sister managed to swim to the shore and alerted Stornoway Coastguard to the incident at around 4.15pm yesterday. The girl was uninjured and is now being cared for by relatives.

A man who co-runs the nearby Sands Caravan and Camping site in Gairloch, Wester Ross, said he and a friend found the five-year-old girl face down in the water.

James Cameron, 34, said: "I happened to be out in the boat yesterday when I heard there was an incident.

"We were just coming in and heard there was a girl missing, so we went out and actually found her.

"We found her face down, she was unconscious. She had her buoyancy aid on, it was keeping her afloat but it wasn't keeping her head out the water.

"We took her in and we did try our best to resuscitate her. The Coastguard helicopter then picked her up off the boat and took her away to Broadford Hospital."

Mr Cameron said there was much activity in the area today as the search continued for the missing man.

"The local boats and Coastguard are still out searching for the missing man, but they're assuming it's going to be a recovery rather than a rescue," he said.

"I think the people involved were on a day trip from Beauly and Muir of Ord. There were two dads and four kids."

Mr Cameron said the incident has left the local community stunned.

"Everyone is devastated," he added.

Northern Constabulary confirmed that two families, who have not been named but are from the East Highland area, were involved in the incident.

Police said the group were in a six-man Canadian canoe.

Yesterday, a helicopter and lifeboats from Portree, Gairloch and Loch Ewe launched a search and were involved in the operation to remove the three children from the water.

Local boats assisted rescue services in the search for the missing 32-year-old man, which continued into the night in the water near the caravan park at Gairloch.

Today, police, Stornoway Coastguard, lifeboats from Lochinver and Portree and members of the Red Cross were involved in the search operation, which resumed at first light.

Gairloch and Lochinver Coastguard rescue teams have been searching the shoreline and outlying islands, helped by other local vessels.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the search has become a recovery mission.

Rain and winds have been forecast for much of the day in the area and choppy seas were understood to have made conditions more difficult for the teams.

Carol Collins, Stornoway Coastguard watch manager, said: "The weather is less favourable for searching today than yesterday but units have been out searching since first light.

"Sadly at this stage the search and rescue phase has now moved to a recovery mission."

Earlier, Murdo Macaulay, of Stornoway Coastguard, said it was not yet known what caused the boat to capsize.

He told Sky News: "The actual vessel itself was what's called a Canadian canoe, an open canoe.

"The area around Big Sands is very popular with tourists. A lot of water sports generally take place there.

"To our knowledge there are no particular hazards in that area, sea-wise. It's not particularly remote by west coast standards. We had a lot of craft in the area yesterday who responded and were involved in yesterday's rescue operation."

Inquiries into the incident are being carried out.

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