POLICE said a teenage swimmer had a ‘lucky escape’ after he was rescued from the sea off Abbotsbury.

The 19-year-old man, described as an experienced swimmer, got into difficulty in the water off Chesil Beach and had to be airlifted to safety by the Coastguard helicopter.

He was flown to hospital as he was in danger of suffering hypothermia but it is understood he was not seriously hurt despite the ordeal.

Although sea swimming is allowed during the lockdown, it is warned the incident placed a huge demand on the emergency services at a time when they are stretched.

The sea on Thursday afternoon was described as rough. The beach off Abbotsbury is shelving and there are strong currents and big waves.

It is understood the man’s girlfriend raised the alarm about 3pm after noticing he was struggling and was unable to get back to shore due to the large sea swell and breaking waves.

It sparked a major rescue operation involving Coastguards, a search and rescue helicopter, a lifeboat police and paramedics.

A HM Coastguard spokesman said: “We received a 999 call from a concerned member of the public reporting a swimmer in potential difficulty, unable to return to shore, at Chesil Beach.

“The HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter from Lee-on-Solent was sent along with West Bay and Wyke Coastguard Rescue Teams, as well as an RNLI lifeboat, to assist in the rescue effort.

“The coastguard helicopter, with a paramedic on board, located the swimmer in the water and winched the casualty to safety before making an onward journey to Dorset County Hospital so that further care could be provided.”

The major response also saw Dorset Police and Lyme Regis RNLI called to the scene after the swimmer made several unsuccessful attempts to get back to shore.

Cyclist Richard Griffith, who was in the area, said: “The girlfriend of the swimmer flagged me down. I was wearing a hi-vis jumper so she must have thought I was an emergency worker.

“She was the one who called the coastguard. She told me he was in the water for over an hour.

“The weather was producing eight-foot waves and seemed very dangerous. I wondered why he was swimming.

“My life would have been put at risk if I helped him, but the emergency services came at an important time.

“It was shocking to see someone in so much trouble, especially a young swimmer. Without help he would have died.”

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: “The man was airlifted from the water. Fortunately, he was safe and well.

“Please let this lucky escape be a lesson to those who think going for a quick swim in the sea is a good idea. The man was an experienced swimmer and yet still needed to be rescued.

“This action put a large demand on many already stretched services and luckily the result was the safe rescue of a person in need.

“Let this be a message to remind people that swimming in the sea is dangerous, and to exercise extreme caution, especially along our coast as there are very strong currents.”

West Bay Coastguard officers said they weren’t sure how long the man was in the sea, but they understood he had made several attempts to swim back to shore. He had been wearing a wetsuit while swimming.

A spokesman for the unit said: “The beach at Abbotsbury has a steep shelf and you can run into trouble quickly.

“The conditions on Thursday were unfavourable and rough, and we were surprised a swimmer was out in those conditions.”