Two drown after being swept into sea by waves in Normandy

The 73-year-olds were fishing along the coast. A third woman was seriously injured

Warnings over strong waves were in place along the coastline at the time of the incident. Photo for illustrative purposes only.
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Two people have drowned off the coast of Normandy after strong waves along the English Channel dragged them out to sea whilst they were fishing along the coastline.

The 73-year olds, a man and woman who have not been named to the media, were angling around 17:00 when they became cut off from the mainland due to sudden changes in the tide near Bréhal (Manche).

They signalled for help to nearby kitesurfers before a wave dragged them into the sea.

Members of a local sailing school saw what happened and tried to rescue them.

However both suffered heart attacks and were pronounced dead by emergency services at the scene.

An investigation has been opened by the Coutances public prosecutor.

A third person, also a 73 year-old woman, was swept into the same stretch of sea and rescued by workers at an oyster farm in nearby Bricqueville-sur-Mer. 

It is not certain if the three were fishing together at the time. 

She was seriously injured and a 76-year old man who tried to help was hurt and transported to the nearby Granville hospital. 

Elsewhere along the English Channel coast, violent waves measuring 113 on the wave coefficient hit Brittany, including at the popular tourist destination of Saint-Malo. 

You can see drone footage of the waves striking the town’s famous sea walls here, provided by Ouest-France.

Read more: Wave power generators ride out storms in trials off French coast

Tragedy on an ‘unknown scale’ for town

“We've never had anything like this. We've had tragedies before but never on this scale," said Daniel Lécureuil, mayor of Bréhal, to FranceBleu

“Every spring, we have more and more fishermen [going out to the coast] on foot. There were precautionary instructions circulating,” he added. 

State weather forecaster Météo France had placed Manche on an orange warning –the second highest possible – earlier that day for strong coastal waves. 

Read more: What action is advised with different Météo France weather warnings

An hour before the incident took place, however, the alert had been reduced to a tier-two yellow warning. 

Strong waves are expected along the Normandy coast and much of the English Channel until Thursday (April 11) as a mixture of low tides and stronger currents combine.

This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as les grandes marées when it impacts the northern French coast, although these ‘spring tides’ can happen multiple times throughout the year.

If you are planning to go to the coastline when waves are strong, local prefectures often post advice on safety measures to take, including: 

  • Do not go out alone and inform those close to you of your intentions beforehand (place, time of departure and, if possible, time of return)

  • Have a means of communication to alert rescue services at sea (a charged mobile phone in a watertight pocket to dial 196, or via channel 16 on a VHF radio)

  • Stay close to a fallback point and keep a visual reference point on the coast (as the tide rises, it can considerably alter your perception of the environment).

Finally, you should also check the official weather forecast for the local area, as well as if there are warnings for vagues-submersion on the Météo France website.

You can also check the ‘coefficients des vagues’ online, a number that indicates how strong waves are expected to be. The coefficient ranges from 20 – 120, with anything over 95 - 100 classed as strong waves. 

It is also recommended to check the tide times online, to avoid being stranded.