An extensive investigation is under way following the deaths of two women in a tragic midnight swimming accident off Aberdeen beach.
The casualties, foreign nationals aged 22 and 36, were pulled from the North Sea in the early hours of Friday morning.
It is thought they had entered the water for a late night swim, but “underestimated” the perilous and near-freezing conditions they would be facing.
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They soon got into difficulty and were found by lifeboat teams, floating face-down and unconscious, near to one of the groynes – the sea barriers that line the beach.
But despite “extensive” efforts to save them, including carrying out CPR while the women were being taken back to shore, they were pronounced dead at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary a short time later.
The alarm had been raised at about 12.45am after a member of the public spotted the women in the water.
Lifeboat teams from Aberdeen and Stonehaven, as well as a helicopter from Inverness, were despatched to help, alongside Coastguard and police units.
All their efforts were ultimately in vain.
Following the incident, police cordoned off a section of the beach between the Queens Links Leisure Park and Footdee.
Officers could be seen combing the sand and its associated paths, searching for clues to help them understand why the women had entered the water so late at night.
Police say work is under way to find and inform the women’s next of kin. The two women are understood to have lived in Aberdeen.
Chief Inspector Martin Mackay spoke from the beach esplanade shortly before midday and said his thoughts were with “those who will be affected by this tragic incident”.
He said: “While officers continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding why these women came to be in the water so late at night, at this stage there appear to be no apparent suspicious circumstances.
“From our initial enquiries, which include speaking to a witness who was at the scene at the time, we understand that they entered the water for the purpose of swimming but sadly underestimated the conditions.”
He added: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the rescue personnel who attended and assisted at the scene during the night and did their very best to save the women involved.”
Chief Inspector Mackay said it might take “some time” to make contact with next of kin.
Coxswain of Aberdeen Lifeboat, Davie Orr, said rescue efforts had been complicated by conditions off-shore.
“We’ve had an easterly breeze for the last couple of weeks and that always causes a bit of swell coming in towards the shore.
“It was high tide as well, which also causes problems, particularly here because when the water’s in there’s not a ready escape route to get out of the water.
“Obviously, with it being dark, that can also be a bit of a problem when you’re searching.”
Chief Inspector Mackay added: “Our seas can be extremely unforgiving, conditions can change rapidly and I can’t stress enough the dangers of entering the water at any time of the day or night when you are not suitably prepared.”
Warning over “deceptive” North Sea conditions
In the wake of the tragic deaths, beach-goers have been urged not to fall prey to the “deceptive” North Sea.
The waters off Aberdeen beach are likely to remain dangerously cold for some time yet, despite rising temperatures across the region.
Coastguard area commander Ross Greenhill has warned that failing to prepare for the conditions could lead to severe consequences.
He said: “Warm air temperatures at this time of year are quite deceptive because water takes an awful lot longer to warm up.
“That means the water temperature is under 10C – and that is very cold.
“Cold water shock sets in very quickly. That can then lead to gasping and taking in water and, unfortunately, that often results in drowning.”
Aberdeen Lifeboat coxswain Davie Orr said: “If you do find yourself in the water try to relax and try to float.
“Extend your arms, control your breathing and shout for help.
“If anybody sees anyone in the water then dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”
A taskforce aimed at improving safety off Aberdeen beach was set up in 2017 following the death of Julie Walker, 37, and her six-year-old son Lucas.
The youngster had been swept out to sea – prompting his mother and 13-year-old brother Samuel to jump into the water to try and save him.
Ms Walker and Lucas died while struggling against the current and Samuel was taken to hospital.
In response to their deaths, a partnership including the RNLI, Royal Life Saving Society, city council and emergency services was set up to prevent other incidents like it from happening again.
Last night a spokesman for the Aberdeen Water Safety Group said: “First and foremost our thoughts are with the families of the two women following this terrible tragedy.
“We are obviously deeply saddened at the loss of two young lives.”