A MOTHER has issued a warning after her children were caught in a patch of quicksand on an Ards peninsula beach.
Bangor mother, Kerry Hayden, said her young children became almost completely submerged in what she has described as a ‘hidden sinkhole’ while playing on Ballyferris beach, near Ballywalter.
A nearby caravan owner went to the aid of 10 year-old Jessica and her eight year-old brother Thomas, after hearing their screams for help.
The family were at a nearby caravan on Sunday, July 15, when the children went to play on the beach. Kerry was unable to join them, as she suffers from functional neurological disorder (FND), a condition which affects the movement of the limbs and causes dizziness.
Jessica and Thomas had only ventured onto the beach a few yards when they stepped onto the patch of quicksand which was completely hidden by seaweed.
“They stepped off the grass bank onto the beach, which basically just looked like seaweed on top of the sand,” said Kerry. “Two steps in or so, they were plunged into what looked like sandy water or sludge, it was swamp like.
“Jessica panicked, and tried to hold onto Thomas, and they were screaming for somebody to help them. The thought just wrecks me.”
The children had been accompanied by another adult who had walked down to the water’s edge and didn’t hear the children screaming.
Fortunately, a caravan owner was nearby and pulled the children out of the sandhole with Kerry reporting that both children were well down in the sand by the time he reached them.
“The man stepped out of his caravan, jumped down but as he tried to step closer, he felt himself going because of the quicksand, so he had to lie on his side to pull them out,” recalled Kerry.
“Billy said Jessica was an inch or two away from being submerged. He pulled her out, then pulled Thomas out.”
After their rescue, the children went back to their mother, covered in wet sand and frightened.
“The first I knew about it was when they came screeching into the caravan. I thought they just fell into dirty water. Jessica couldn’t speak,” said Kerry.
However, the man who rescued the children arrived to tell Kerry what had happened and the seriousness of the situation.
“If that man had not been there and saved my children, I would have thought they had been abducted,” she says. “I would have never have thought to look there, nobody knew that sinkhole was there. They would have been swallowed up.
“Jessica is quite tall for her age, Thomas is eight, it was up to his chest. If a smaller child had gone in there, they would have never been found.”
The supervisor of the caravan park put tape up to stop people stepping off the bank onto the part of the beach which caused the problem.
A few weeks after their ordeal, the siblings remain shaken by their experience. Kerry hopes that time will be a ‘healer’ for her children.
“My little boy just won’t speak about it, he is trying to act like a big boy,” says Kerry.
“My little girl has taken it very hard, she has not been sleeping and waking up screaming. I hope that time will settle it for her.
North Down MLA, Alex Easton, has called for action to be taken to make the area safe for visitors.
“This is obviously not something you hear of everyday in Northern Ireland and I was surprised when I was contacted by the family this happened to,” he said.
“They were very concerned by what had happened to their children, and wanted action taken.
“I have contacted the Ards and North Down Council’s Environmental Health department and the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs, and am hoping something can be done to ensure that the area is safe and that no children or even a pet may get themselves stuck,” he added.