A DAD has thanked lifeboat crews who rescued his teenage son after he went missing at sea for four hours in an inflatable dinghy with a man he had just met.
The Coastguard mounted a major rescue after Sean Clifton, 14, and a 33-year-old man drifted out to sea from Easington Colliery with no safety equipment and just a pair of plastic oars. The operation involved several lifeboats and a Sea King helicopter.
The pair were found just before dusk by the Hartlepool inshore lifeboat, one-and-a-half miles north-east of the dinghy’s launch point.
Sean’s father, William Clifton, said: “The lifeboat crews were absolutely fantastic.
“But for their prompt action and the co-ordinated nature of their search, the outcome could have been completely different.”
He added, his son had “definitely learned his lesson” about getting into a dinghy with no safety equipment, and especially with a stranger.
Mr Clifton said: “Sean was in a state of shock after he was found and sorry for what he had put people through.
“He said he was playing with his friends in Easington Colliery when they saw a man struggling to pull the dinghy along.
“They gave him a hand to the beach and as a thank you he offered Sean a ride.”
Mr Clifton added: “Sean would know better than to go off with a stranger, but because he was with three friends he felt secure.
“They paddled out, but only had two small plastic oars, which both broke.
“They tried to get back by paddling with their hands, but the tide and wind swept them out to sea.
“Sean had his mobile phone with him, but it became wet and wouldn’t work.”
Sean’s friends saw the dinghy disappear out of view, but thought he had got out further up the beach.
After about three hours they realised something was wrong and telephoned the Coastguard, who established Sean had not returned home.
A search was launched, involving two Hartlepool RNLI lifeboats and the two Sunderland RNLI lifeboats.
The rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer was also scrambled and the ambulance service and police were called to the scene.
Humber coastguard watch manager Mike Puplett said: “HM Coastguard advises members of the public not to use toy inflatable boats at the beach.
“They can easily be blown out to sea, especially if there there is an offshore wind.”