Gairloch canoe capsize: Father missing after his two young sons die

The BBC's Jackie O'Brien says a girl who swam ashore to raise the alarm was eight years old

The search for a man feared to have died with his two sons after a canoe capsized on a Highland sea loch, has been stood down for the day.

Six people were in the boat when it overturned off Gairloch on Sunday afternoon. Another man and his eight-year-old daughter swam to shore.

The brothers, aged two and five, died after being airlifted to hospital.

A five-year-old girl remains in a serious condition. A shoreline search will resume on Tuesday.

Those on board the canoe were members of two families who had been on a day trip from their homes in the Black Isle.

It is understood the eight-year-old girl reached the shore shortly before her father, aged 36, at about 16:15, and managed to alert the coastguard.

Her five-year-old sister was initially taken to Broadford Hospital on Skye before later being transferred by helicopter to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. Her parents are with her.

The boys were taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, but Northern Constabulary later confirmed they had both died.

The search resumed at 08:00 on Monday for the 32-year-old man who is still missing, but hopes of finding him alive have faded and the coastguard said it was now being treated as a recovery - rather than a rescue - mission.

Carol Collins, Stornoway Coastguard Watch Manager, said: "The weather is less favourable for searching today than yesterday but units have been out searching since first light.

"Sadly at this stage the search and rescue phase has now moved to a recovery mission."

Map of the Highlands Gairloch is a sea loch which curves into the Wester Ross peninsula of the north west Highlands

A coastguard helicopter and lifeboats from Portree, Gairloch and Loch Ewe launched a rescue operation in water close to the Big Sands caravan park.

The coastguard believes the canoe capsized several hundred metres from the shoreline, between a small island and the beach.

James Cameron, 34, who co-runs the Big Sands caravan and camping site, said he and a friend managed to locate the five-year-old girl after becoming involved in the rescue operation on Sunday.

He said: "I happened to be out in the boat yesterday when I heard there was an incident. We were just coming in and heard there was a girl missing, so we went out and actually found her.

"We found her face down, she was unconscious. She had her buoyancy aid on, it was keeping her afloat but it wasn't keeping her head out the water.

"We took her in and we did try our best to resuscitate her. The coastguard helicopter then picked her up off the boat and took her away to Broadford Hospital."

Mr Cameron said the incident has left the local community stunned. "Everyone is devastated," he added.

Jamie Ralston of Stornoway Coastguard, who helped co-ordinate the rescue operation, confirmed that the weather had been good at the time of the incident.

He added: "It was a nice, clear, sunny day with a little offshore breeze.

"The family were out in a Canadian canoe, six of them - two adults and four kids - and unfortunately it has capsized."

Rescue vehicles and boats on shore at Gairloch The area where the search is being carried out is a popular destination for holidaymakers

Local fishing boats and onshore coastguard teams assisted with the rescue efforts on Sunday, and were due to rejoin the search operation on Monday.

Northern Constabulary said the group were in a Canadian canoe.

BBC Scotland reporter Jackie O'Brien, who is at the scene, told the Good Morning Scotland programme police were still trying to piece together exactly what had happened.

She said an eyewitness told her conditions on the loch had been "very calm" on Sunday, and many families who were on holiday there had been enjoying the warm conditions on the beach.

She added: "Obviously this is a very popular campsite known as the Big Sands, and there were a lot of people - locals and visitors - around yesterday.

"But this is a sea loch and it is tidal, and conditions on it can change at a moment's notice. Local people do warn of the undercurrents in these waters that can take leisure craft by surprise.

"So we understand that the six would have required to be wearing life jackets but there is no indication yet of exactly what happened."

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