'It could have been my wife and children out there'
A father-of-three who risked his own life in a desperate bid to rescue a mother caught in a rip current off the Cornish coast has described the tragedy as "complete hell".
The woman, who has not yet been named, died following the incident at Northcott Mouth beach, near Bude, on Monday afternoon. She is believed to have gone to the aid of her sons, aged 11 and 13, who escaped unharmed.
Simon Hill, from Wimborne in Dorset, and his family were on holiday in the area and walking along the beach when he learned that the woman and two boys were in trouble.
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"You don't give it a thought at the time, it's just human nature," Mr Hill said. "It could have been my wife and children out there.
"I had to get in there and get to who was closest to me first, which was one of the boys, about 100 yards out.
"The woman was face-down when I got to her. Thankfully, the boys are still alive."
He added: "It has really affected me, I haven't slept properly since."
Mr Hill, who works in human resources, helped get one of the boys back to the shore before RNLI lifeguards from a neighbouring beach and the lifeboat from Bude arrived.
The woman, believed to be in her early 50s, was airlifted to North Devon District Hospital but could not be revived. Mr Hill spent a night in hospital with water on his lungs
"It was pretty awful," he added. "It's so tragic. It's affected us all a lot. It was a beautiful, tranquil morning, perfect for a walk, and it just turned into complete hell."
Earlier this week, Devon and Cornwall Police praised Mr Hill and another man for their actions.
Sergeant Lynden Hughes said: "Had these two members of the public not done what they did, then we would have probably been looking at a more serious incident involving the young boy as well.
"They really did take their life into their own hands and assisted in the most admirable way."
Lifeguard cover at Northcott had ended 24 hours before the incident.
With warm sunny weather forecast for this weekend, the RNLI yesterday issued a list of the beaches where lifeguards remain on patrol. They include seven in Devon and 42 in Cornwall.
Steve Instance, RNLI lifeguard inspector in the South West, said: "Our lifeguards are there to keep people safe, offering useful advice to help prevent accidents and a rapid reaction if something does go wrong.
"The red and yellow flags highlight the safe bathing areas and people can rest assured they are being watched over while they enjoy late summer conditions.
"To find out more, people can visit the RNLI website, or download our new Beach Finder app, available free on Android and Apple devices, which also enables them to check real-time weather information, water quality and view lifeguard season dates, patrol times and safety warnings."