QUICK-THINKING teenagers have been hailed heroes for helping to save a man’s life after he was buried in sand.
Ronnie Martin thought he was going to die when the 5ft hole he had been digging in the dunes at Druridge Bay beach, on Sunday afternoon, collapsed in on him.
But thankfully eight pupils from Amble’s James Calvert Spence College – Acklington Road, jumped in to help, alongside Ronnie’s brother, scooping up sand with their hands to free his head so he could breathe.
Police, ambulance, fire crews, the Coastguard, Great North Air Ambulance, Urban Search and Rescue and the Hazardous Area Response Team then spent nearly two hours trying to free him.
A digger was also brought in but he was eventually freed by hand.
The 32-year-old from Bedlington described the lads – Marc Waddell and Joe Allan, both 14, Jamie Merryfield, Jake Baker, Billy Heckels and Luke Phillips, all 15, and Josh Derbyshire, 16, from Widdrington, as well as Scott Farrar, 14, from Amble – as heroes.
“Massive thank-yous to them,” Ronnie said. “If it wasn’t for the lads digging the sand away from my face, I wouldn’t be alive.They were absolutely fantastic. They didn’t have anything to dig with and one of them just stayed on the phone to the emergency services the whole time. They are true heroes.”
Pupil Marc described how the lads were caught up in the drama.
“We were just dune-jumping when this group called us over to have a look at the hole they had dug,” he said.
“The brother of the man who got trapped came out and he went in and it all just collapsed.
“The sand was about a foot over the top of his head. All we could see was his glasses at the top of the sand.
“The lads just jumped on and started to dig him out while me and another friend phoned the emergency services.
“They managed to dig down to his shoulders so that he could breathe. He was saying that he loved his wife and family and was saying goodbye.
“It was really scary, but that was the sort of thing that you have to do. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Jake added: “My heart started beating so quickly. When he was eventually pulled out, his legs were like jelly.”
And Josh said: “When it collapsed, it just swallowed his whole body and head. You could hear him mumbling underneath and we just wanted to get him out. It was pretty frightening.”
Ronnie, father to six-year-old Tyler, who was playing in the sea when it happened, had cycled to the beach with his brother Billy.
His friend Reg Van Der Poll and wife Beverley were also there, along with other friends.
Ronnie praised the emergency services for getting him out alive.
“When my brother was helping to dig me out with the lads he thought he would be bringing me out dead,” he said.
“Reg said he could hear me mumbling and struggling to breathe, sucking in sand. He said it will haunt him for the rest of his life. I was squatting in the bottom of the hole with my hands between my legs when the sand came in. I didn’t know where anything was.
“The sand just engulfed every single orifice. It was crushing me. I just thought I was going to die. I have only slept a few hours since it happened.
“When I got out, I crawled off the stretcher and grabbed my wife and hugged her.
“I just want to say a massive thank-you to everyone. I shouldn’t physically be here, I’m so lucky. People don’t normally come out of that alive.”
Ronnie was airlifted to Newcastle’s RVI by the air ambulance and, once his oxygen levels had returned to normal, he was released from hospital. He was back at work as a plasterer yesterday.