RESCUERS battled to free a stricken teenager who was trapped waist-deep in sand as the tide rushed in.
A huge rescue operation was launched after the 16-year-old became trapped on a beach at Seaton Carew.
The youngster was stuck from the waist down for an hour and 15 minutes and relieved rescuers said he was lucky to be alive.
Coastguards and fire officers battled to save the youngster and after a dramatic rescue he was taken to the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton in a fire engine.
Ambulance service chiefs said an ambulance was just two minutes away, but a paramedic at the scene had assessed him and decided there was no medical danger and no risk in him being transported to hospital by the fire service, as ambulances were under extreme pressure handling a huge volume of calls.
The teenager escaped without serious injuries, but was treated for mild hypothermia last night.
Fire chiefs and Hartlepool RNLI volunteers told the Hartlepool Mail that the victim was extremely lucky and had it been 30 minutes later it could have turned into a “different situation”.
The drama unfolded at Seaton Carew beach, opposite the end of Station Way at around 5.20pm yesterday.
It is believed the boy was trying to get two younger members of his family out of the sea when he found himself sinking in some soft sand with his foot stuck underneath a rock.
He tried to escape with the help of family members, but with the tide coming in fast, emergency services were called.
The victim, from Peterlee, had already been stuck for almost an hour when fire officers and RNLI volunteers received a call.
They raced to the scene and fire officers used a water jet to loosen the sand, while RNLI divers went below the water to try and free the boy.
RNLI volunteer helmsman Mark Barker, who was first on the scene, said: “He was trapped in the sand with the tide coming in fast.
“At first he was quite calm, but he began to panic a little with the shock and the fact the sea was rising.”
Mike Craddy, lifeboat operations manager for Hartlepool RNLI, added: “The boy was very lucky. With the tide coming in fast we could have been talking about a different situation.
“Our team worked together extremely well and thankfully with the help of the fire service managed the free the boy.”
Ronnie Olds, crew manager at Stranton Fire Station, said the victim was “very lucky” and issued a warning to others to be careful in and around this area of the beach.
He said: “We assisted the RNLI and Coastguard and used a water jet to help to free the boy.
“With the ongoing movement of the sea defences we want to warn people to be careful on the beach.”
A spokesman for the North East Ambulance Service, said: “There was an exceptionally high demand of cases last night.
“We normally have around 350 cases on a Friday evening, but we had 530 this week.
“Ideally we would have got an ambulance to the scene quicker, but the victim was under continuous care of a paramedic when he was taken to hospital.”