A mother has drowned after being swept out to sea trying to rescue her son on a beach where lifeguard cover had been withdrawn just hours before.
The woman, a holidaymaker in her early 50s, was in the water with her son when the pair got into difficulty at Northcott Mouth beach, near Bude, in North Cornwall.
They were believed to have been caught by a rip current and taken out of their depth at about 2pm yesterday.
Falmouth Coastguard said the woman was recovered from the water by two men – one of whom had raised the alarm after seeing the family in difficulty.
Rescuers tried to resuscitate her and she was airlifted to North Devon District Hospital but pronounced dead.
The woman’s son was rescued and her other son was forced to watch the tragedy unfold from the shore.
The drama unfolded at 2pm yesterday just 24 hours after lifeguard cover on the beach ended.
Devon and Cornwall Police were caring for the two boys, thought to be aged 11 and 13, as officers tried to contact next of kin.
Sgt Lynden Hughes from Devon and Cornwall Police praised the two members of the public who tried to save the woman.
He 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.’
A spokesman for the RNLI said: ‘This is a tragic situation and the thoughts of the whole RNLI team are with the woman’s family and friends at this sad time.’
Lifeguard cover on the rural beach, which was busy with visitors on Monday, ran from July 7 until Sunday.
The RNLI spokesman said: ‘Northcott beach is a peak season beach and therefore has RNLI lifeguard cover for the two-month high season summer period from July 7 to September 2.
‘The period of lifeguard cover at any beach is decided after the charity carries out risk assessments on the beaches at the request of the local authority or private beach owner.
‘This includes the numbers and types of beach users, numbers and type of incidents, natural hazards, topography and proximity to other rescue services and makes recommendations on the level of safety cover on the beach, including the season dates, number of lifeguards and the type of rescue equipment.
‘Information on the locations, dates and times of local lifeguard cover is displayed in the area.’