Nairn teenager describes fight for life in waters of the Moray Firth
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An open water swimmer who battled freezing temperatures and strong tides in the Moray Firth for three hours has described how a spur-of-the-moment decision to wear his wetsuit saved his life.
That – coupled with a passer-by spotting him in trouble and alerting emergency services – was the difference for 19-year-old Seth King who believes he is lucky to be here and cannot thank his rescuers enough.
Police received an emergency call at about 8.30pm on Monday sparking a large-scale search and rescue operation on land and sea involving coastguards.
It came after Seth got into difficulties off the East Pier at about 6pm.
He had already been in the water for about an hour completing a swim towards the Old Bar peninsula from the harbour mouth and back again.
Seth, who is a crew member on a lobster boat fishing from Scrabster but lives in Nairn, revealed he was caught out by the tide when he returned to the harbour entrance.
“I was feeling quite good and after a rest I was going to do the same swim again,” he said. “But as I set off 20 yards from the pier I could feel the tide pulling me out to sea.”
It soon became clear he was not going to make it back to shore against the strong current – but he refused to panic.
“I knew I was in trouble so I used the technique which is always advised to swimmers in difficulty: ‘float to live’,” he said. “I stretched my arms and legs out and let the tide take me.
“Swimming against the tide will tire you out and the likelihood is you will drown.”
The current pulled Seth towards a buoy anchored 800 yards east of the pier. As he was being carried towards it, he struck out and reached the buoy.
“I couldn’t reach the chain underneath the surface so I just clung to the buoy for two hours shouting to people on the shore but the cold was getting to me,” he said.
“I normally just swim in my shorts and T-shirt, even in winter, but for some reason I put on my wetsuit and it definitely saved my life – and, for sure, I’ll be wearing it from now on.”
He said it was two years since he had last worn his wetsuit.
After more than two hours he let go of the buoy to see if he could make it to the sandbar.
“But my legs wouldn’t move so I adopted the ‘float to survive’ technique again,” Seth said. “I was shouting to the shore. It was beginning to get dark. Then I saw some people wearing hi-viz jackets on the beach and the coastguard vehicle’s lights.
“I really thought I was going to die until I saw the coastguard. Then I heard a helicopter and a winch man was lowered and grabbed me and pulled me up.”
Seth was taken to Raigmore Hospital where he was treated for hypothermia and discharged in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“I know how lucky I was,” he said. “From now on I’ll be wearing a wetsuit, checking tides, and I’m getting a personal locator beacon.
“My sister in Forres knew I had gone for a swim and a doctor contacted her to say I was in hospital. It must have come as a terrible shock.
“I know I’m lucky to be here and I can’t thank the rescue services enough and the person who made the emergency call. They saved my life.”
Coastguard rescue teams from Nairn and Inverness attended along with the Moray Inshore Rescue Organisation Boat, fire and rescue personnel, RNLI Kessock and the coastguard helicopter. Firemen from Nairn had already spotted Seth from shore, and the coastguards then directed the helicopter to him as the light was fading.
A coastguard spokesman said Seth was quickly located after they received the alert.
With open water swimming growing in popularity, the coastguard service is urging people to learn about the location before starting and advising to be aware of any hazards, check the weather and tides and carry a means of calling for help.