A TRAINING exercise for fire-fighters turned into a real-life rescue when a teenager became stuck in treacherous quick-sands in Morecambe Bay.
Kavan Humphreys, 13, from Kendal, was on a fishing trip with his father Alan and a friend on Monday when he was trapped waist-deep in mud after straying too far from the shore at Silverdale.
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Firefighters training at near-by Sandside rushed to the aid of the stricken teenager as their practice rescue became real.
Mr Humphreys, 44, said he and the boys had gone looking for flat fish and had been there for just ten minutes when Kavan began calling for help.
“He’d gone to a channel where there might be fish, crossed to the other side and sunk,” Mr Humphreys said.
“He shouted for me so I walked round the corner, where there’s a bit of a cliff, and I could see he was knee-deep in quicksand.
“I knew I couldn’t get to him without getting stuck myself so I kept my cool and phoned the coastguard.”
Luckily, fire crews were minutes away trying out two new ‘inflatable walkways’ for situations exactly like Kavan’s.
“We’d been practising on a colleague who was up to his chest in quicksand and had just released him when we got the call,” said station manager Paul Dorrington.
The team quickly found the teen in a notorious area for quicksand, around 50 metres from the shore.
They used the inflatable walk-ways to get to Kavan and set up a stable platform for firefighters to use as they worked to free him.
The team used sand lances and the water supply from one of the fire engines to soften the mud.
Mr Dorrington said: “Mud sets like concrete so we turned on the water to liquify it, which allowed us to lift one leg out at a time.
“We were in a very fortunate position – the tide was well out so we had time on our side. It could have been a very different story.”
Kavan was pulled free in less than an hour and handed over to a waiting ambulance.
He was taken to hospital for precautionary checks but was back at Queen Katherine School, Kendal, the following day.
Mr Humphreys said the experience had alerted him to ‘be more aware’ of the dangers in the Bay.
“Because it was two 13-year-olds I expected them to be grown up but sometimes they think they can do more than they should,” he told the Gazette.
“It happened so quickly he didn’t really have a chance and it could have been much worse if the tide had been on the way in.
“I’d not been to that spot since I was young and in those days it was nice firm sand that you could ride a bike on.”
He added: “We’d go back there but learn from that mistake and check out the area and tide times first.”
The training exercise had been organised to prepare fire crews for warmer weather in the summer holidays leading to more incidents.
Lancashire Fire Service spokesman John Taylor said: “The sands of Morecambe Bay shift over the years and the shore off Silverdale has changed dramatically.
“Thirty years ago much of the shoreline was grass or marsh but about ten years ago the river came right in to the shore, scouring away the areas where it was safe to walk. Now there are many areas of soft quicksand close to the shore.”
Last year The Westmorland Gazette launched its ‘Safety on the Sands’ campaign to heighten awareness of the potentially treacherous sands.
The campaign saw thousands of posters distributed to businesses the region.
Arnside Coastguard station officer Nigel Capstick said: “Of all the scenarios we train to prevent and resolve, quicksand rescue is undoubtedly the most difficult and onerous.
“A child stuck up to the waist, especially with an incoming tide, is our worst nightmare, as the possible consequences do not bear thinking about.
“However, it is a very real possibility as the sands out in the Bay are truly lethal.
“We urge everyone to take the warnings seriously and not to hesitate to dial 999 and ask for Coastguard if you think someone may be in trouble.”
* BAY Search and Rescue were called out on Monday afternoon to rescue a couple from London who had been out birdwatching and were cut off by rising tides at Humphrey Head, Flookburgh.
The team's Hagglund all-terrain rescue vehicle found the pair and took them safely to the shore.
BSAR Training Officer Mike Davis said: “It’s important that people check tide times and be aware of their surroundings at all times.”