A KAYAKER is lucky to be alive after he capsized and was swept out to sea desperately clinging to his vessel.
It was only by sheer luck that he was saved after an off-duty police officer and his wife spotted the stricken man half a mile off the coast and heard his cries for help.
The man told rescuers he thought he was “going to die” as he was plucked to safety after hanging on to his kayak for 45 minutes.
The off-duty officer, PC Andy Holland, said: “We look back now and think, if my wife hadn’t seen the kayak, the man could have been a goner.”
The drama unfolded around 5.30pm yesterday when Sue Holland, 52, was on the beach near Marine Drive, on the Headland.
Library assistant Sue, from the Hart Station area of town, said: “I saw what looked like a raft, I just had a bad feeling about it.
“Then I heard or thought I heard someone shouting for help and thought I saw an arm waving.”
Sue’s husband Andy, a PC with Peterlee Police, was in the water with the couple’s pet Labrador Fynn, so he swam 100 yards out and heard the man’s cries.
“What was worrying me was he was drifting, it was clear to me he wasn’t rowing or manouvering the craft,” said Andy, 45, who has been a police officer for 18 years.
Andy came ashore, and as the couple did not have a mobile phone on them, they approached a group of young girls who loaned Andy a phone so he could ring HM Coastguard.
Within minutes, the couple saw the Hartlepool RNLI inshore lifeboat race to the kayaker’s aid.
RNLI volunteer Kenny Hay said as the lifeboat got closer, the man looked to be drifting in and out of consciousness.
He added: “I decided to jump into the water to give him the confidence to leave go of his canoe and his equipment.
“He had swallowed quite a lot of water.
“All he kept saying to me was he thought he was going to die, he was in shock.”
Fellow crew members Mark Barker and Darren Killick helped get the man onboard and he was brought ashore, near to Steetley Pier, where he was treated by paramedics for the suspected effects of hypothermia.
The man is believed to be recovering well.
PC Holland, who spoke to the kayaker afterwards, said: “We don’t think of ourselves as heroes, we just made a phone call.”
A spokesman for HM Coastguard said: “It was well-spotted by the off-duty policeman and his wife and it was quickly attended by the RNLI - well done to them.
“It was lucky that somebody spotted it.”