TWO brave men who ran into the water and risked their lives in an attempt to rescue a mother and her son from a rip current off a remote North Cornwall beach have been praised by police and lifeguards.
The woman, believed to have been on a day trip from Somerset with her two sons, aged 11 and 13, had tried to rescue one of them when he was swept out to sea at Northcott Mouth, near Bude, on Monday afternoon.
She was pulled unconscious from the water and later confirmed dead after being flown to North Devon District Hospital at Barnstaple.
The boy survived and, with his brother, was later picked up at Bude by a relative. An inquest into the death of their mother, in her fifties, is due to be opened in Barnstaple.
Lifeguard cover on the rural beach, which is owned by the National Trust, had ended the day before the tragedy.
RNLI Lifeguard Inspector Steve Instance yesterday praised the actions of two men who were walking the coastal path but jumped into the water in a bid to save the mother and her son before emergency services arrived.
"There was no one else in the water when they saw there were people in trouble.
"Neither of them was a strong swimmer, but they were very brave and very cool. Without regard for their own safety they dived in, and one of them actually had to be saved himself by a lifeguard who arrived on the scene."
Mr Instance said it was fortunate that one of the men had the foresight to dial 999 and ask for the emergency services before diving in.
"It was the only emergency call made, as the area was very quiet. Our lifeguards got there very quickly and if the call had not been made then there could have been further casualties."
Sergeant Lynden Hughes, from Bude police, said: "Had these two members of the public not done what they did, then we would have probably been looking at a more serious incident involving the young boy as well. They took their lives into their own hands."
RNLI lifeguards, who had rushed from Summerleaze Beach at Bude, pulled the woman ashore and attempted to revive her. She was airlifted to hospital by an RAF helicopter from RMB Chivenor but could not be saved.
Notices on the beach clearly indicated that lifeguards were not on duty. Mr Instance said Northcott was a quiet rural beach designated for peak-season coverage only.
Margaret Frost, who works at the tea garden on the beach at Northcott Mouth, claimed the lifeguards should be patrolling longer.
She said: "I just feel that our lifeguards should be here for another fortnight. In the last five years the place has become a lot more popular for tourists. We need more cover to prevent tragedies like this."
Local resident, Paul Parkinson, said: "The day before the red flag was out which means no swimming – but people were just ignoring the flag."