THIRTY-three people had to be plucked to safety from the treacherous Morecambe Bay sands after being caught out by rapidly rising tides.

Rescuers, who answered an unprecedented number of calls during this week’s hot spell, said it was only a matter of luck that none of the incidents had been fatal.

Among the incidents rescuers responded to were –

* Two men saved by Ulverston Inshore Rescue Team as chest-deep water threatened to engulf them near to the Leven Viaduct.

* Rescuers being scrambled to help three Kendal fishermen who became trapped in waist-deep water near Heysham.

* Crews on a quad bike assisted five young men who became stranded on a sandbank after attempting to walk from Chapel Island to Ulverston.

* A Silverdale couple got into difficulties after attempting to re-cross a rapidly filling channel as they were out for a walk.

Mark and Jane Hallam, who were walking their dogs off the coast at Silverdale on Monday, were almost swept to their deaths as a channel they had previously paddled across got deeper with quick-flowing water.

They crossed the channel when the water was only 10 metres wide and 15 centimetres deep but half an hour later the scene had dramatically changed.

“We panicked when we saw the channel had grown to about 50 metres wide but decided to try to cross it,” said Mr Hallam, 46.

“Within minutes it had risen to my chest, and I had to pick up two of our little dogs and put them under my arms.

“Soon we had been taken 100 metres down the channel. The water was so unbelievably powerful – and in the last few metres my wife was swept off her feet and had to swim.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about what would have happened had there been children involved. It was very scary and there was a time that I thought: ‘This is how people drown.’.”

Ulverston Inshore Rescue Team attended four incidents between Saturday and Tuesday where people found themselves in danger, and Arnside Coastguard responded to six call-outs between Saturday and Monday, including two where couples had to swim for their lives.

Coastguard Station Officer Nigel Capstick said: “It was only by luck, and the fact that the area has such good rescue teams, that any of these situations did not turn out to be more serious or a fatality.”

The Arnside Coastguard also helped 12 walkers who were cut off from the Grange-over-Sands shore, a couple stuck by Holme Island, and another Silver-dale couple who found themselves in the same situation as Mr and Mrs Hallam.

Mr Capstick said the large number of call-outs was caused by a combination of very hot weather and late tides.

“The channel at Silverdale is close to shore and it is very tempting for people to paddle across to the sand, but it can turn from being ankle-deep to a a torrent in minutes.”

Bruce Chattaway, station 0fficer at Ulverston Inshore Rescue, explained that changing channels added to the danger.

“The channels are changing all the time,” he said. “Every week they can vary.”

And Mike Davies, of Bay Search and Rescue at Flookburgh, said: “Having fun in the sands can quickly turn into an accident.

“There are areas where people shouldn’t be going at all, but it’s hard to stop them so if they are going to go out they need to think what they’re doing and not put themselves at risk.

“It’s important that everyone checks the tide times – it could be a matter of life or death.”