IF THEY were not in the right place at the right time, a woman and two children swept away from the shingle could have died in the Solent.
Now two heroes have told of the moment they pulled an exasperated midwife and her daughter, 13, and grandson, eight, to safety in a dramatic rescue near the Hotwalls in Old Portsmouth.
Natasha Staley leapt into the sea after the youngsters were dragged toward the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour by a wave as they paddled together on July 24.
But she too was soon in grave trouble because of the current – prompting concerned beachgoers to desperately hail down a passing pilot boat.
It was the trio’s saviours, Associated British Port workers Gary Crook and Andy Birch, who happened to be on board after finishing a job with a nearby tanker.
‘They were in serious trouble and if we had been a minute or two later, I’m sure Natasha wouldn’t have survived,’ said Gary, 55, a coxswain a father-of-two.
‘Natasha was not in a good state when we arrived and the kids were not in a good way either.’
He added: ‘They were together in the water when we arrived, but had they not been, who would we have saved?
‘That’s a question we keep asking ourselves.’
As their efforts were last night congratulated by the lord mayor of Portsmouth, David Fuller, the pair told how they had ‘one shot’ to save the family with a single buoyancy ring.
This was because the cables they usually bring struggling sailors to safety with were rendered useless, as Natasha and her family were wearing swimwear.
Father-of-two and berthing officer Andy, 35, said: ‘On the back of the boat we got the children on board with a ladder.
‘But we had to pull [Natasha] on board ourselves because she had no strength. She was fairly unresponsive.
‘She began coughing and spluttering, which was a good sign because we knew the worst hadn’t happened.’
The pair told Mr Fuller that Natasha, from Portsmouth, is now looking to go to local schools and campaign for water safety after her ordeal, which Gary admitted has left him unable to sleep when he recalls it at night.
He and Andy have since been reunited with the family, who dubbed the group ‘friends for life’ on Facebook.