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Cliff-plunge pals lucky to be alive

AN ACCRINGTON teenager is lucky to be alive after a family holiday almost ended in tragedy.

CLIFF drama... Pierce Sunderland was airlifted to safety.
CLIFF drama... Pierce Sunderland was airlifted to safety.

AN ACCRINGTON teenager is lucky to be alive after a family holiday almost ended in tragedy.

Pierce Sunderland, 13, had to be airlifted from the side of a cliff at Sandy Bay near Exmouth after going fishing with his two pals.

He was playing with friends Paul and Chris Hamer, from Haslingden, who had travelled down to the Devon Parks caravan resort with their mum Carol and her partner Paul Tyrer.

Pierce was on holiday with his parents Gail and David, who live in the Spring Hill area of Accrington, and his three brothers and sister.

The trio were fishing on the beach when they spotted the tide coming in. Paul managed to swim to safety but the two younger boys decided to climb the cliff.

Pierce, who attends St Christopher's High School, told the Observer: "The tide came in really fast and cut us off. Me and Chris started climbing the cliff but he slipped and I tried to grab him."

Pierce then watched in horror as Chris, 12, plunged 60 feet down the cliff on to the rocks below.

He added: "I couldn't keep hold of him and he fell out of my hands. I could see he was hurt. I grabbed a tree to stop myself falling."

Chris was eventually able to grab hold of a rope and pull himself up. Pierce said: "I couldn't go any further as the thorns were thick. It was overwhelming. I shouted at some people at the top to get my mum and call 999."

A major air and sea rescue operation was mounted involving the coastguard, a helicopter, police and paramedics.

Hundreds watched as the helicopter hovered over Pierce and crews dropped him a line. It took three attempts but they managed to lift him to safety.

Meanwhile, Chris managed to make his own way back up the cliff, despite carrying a number of injuries, including a broken ankle.

Pierce's mum Gail, a psychiatric nurse, heaped praise on the rescue teams, saying: "We would just like to say a big thank-you to the emergency services. They really pulled out all the stops for us."

But dad David, a retired naval officer, blasted resort bosses for not making the area secure. He said: "We could not see any warning signs or fences anywhere. The holiday brochure should warn people about the dangers of the cliffs."

A spokesman for Exmouth Coastguard Rescue Team said: "The helicopter crew threw Pierce a line down and the rescue team tied it to him. We lifted him up and brought him back up to the top. The kid was very good and stayed calm."


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