A VALE dad has been hailed a “true hero” after he saved three children from drowning.

John Haughie, from Alexandria, was enjoying a day at the beach with his family when he spotted Katrina McCallie and her children gasping for air.

John ran straight into the water and dived below the surface to reach Katrina’s son and daughter, Ben, 14, and Poppy, nine, and Katrina’s younger brother, eight-year-old Lewis, before bringing them to safety.

Katrina and her husband David had travelled with the youngsters to a caravan site at Arisaig in the west Highlands for the weekend when Katrina decided to take the children to the beach.

She said: “The kids had been playing in the water and I noticed my younger brother was splashing quite frantically.

“I couldn’t see Poppy. I realised they were in trouble and my son, Ben, was trying to help them.

“I ran into the water, but the current was strong and I had no chance of saving all of us.

“I was trying to hold the kids up, but there was nothing below me.

“We were all screaming and the kids were clawing at me.

“It probably didn’t last more than a few minutes, but I honestly thought my babies were going to die.

“I couldn’t see my youngest, Willow. I thought she had already drifted out.

“It was horrific.”

At the time David, an Army veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress, was back at the caravan, so was unable to intervene.

But luckily for the family, John – who was also visiting the area with his wife, Cheryl, their daughters Bella and Kiera, and Kiera’s friend Ellie – realised what was happening and reacted instantly.

“John came running from the top of the beach, where he had been playing with his young baby and children,” Katrina continued.

“He swam over and saved the kids, and I managed to get out.

“When we got back to shore we were all crying and I realised Willow had been buried in the sand, so hadn’t entered the water.

“We grabbed our stuff, thanked John and his family and went back to the caravan.

“We were all in some state and I explained to David what happened.

“Once we had got over it, we went back down to the beach and caught John and Cheryl as they were packing up.

“David thanked him for everything he did, but John was so humble.

“We will never forget what he did.”

Following the incident, which happened on Saturday, August 9, Katrina, from Hamilton, contacted the Reporter to say a public thank you to the family’s rescuer – and to make sure the rest of Dumbarton and the Vale knew about their humble neighbour’s act of heroism.

Katrina told how her memories of what happened – and her thoughts of what could have happened if John hadn’t intervened – are so vivid that she struggles to look at the pictures she took on the beach that day.

The Reporter got in touch with John and Cheryl to pass on the gratitude of Katrina and her family – and to let them know of their wish to tell the rest of Dumbarton and the Vale what had happened and to publicly thank him for saving their lives.

John, a truck driver who, like David, is a former Army soldier, told the Reporter he had passed the beach while working, and said that the night before the incident he had suggested to Cheryl that they drive to the area and pick a nice spot to enjoy the day.

He described how his eldest daughter had screamed at him to help when they realised Katrina and the three children were in difficulty, and how he swam down to grab Poppy and Ben before dragging all three children, and Katrina – who can’t swim, but instinctively rushed into the water to help the youngsters – to safety.

“I saw them struggling,” John said. “The tide had taken them out, and the beach had a drop-off to it which took the floor from under their feet.

“I only did what I would have expected anyone else to do, but ever since I have been thinking of them and it’s so lovely that they wanted to thank me.

“I believe it was fate that put us all on the beach that day. I hope people will be more aware of the dangers of playing in open water as a result.”