A HOLIDAY-MAKER told last night how he almost drowned trying to rescue two teenage girls from the sea.

A rescue operation was launched after the 14-year-olds got into trouble while swimming off Sandsend beach, near Whitby, North Yorkshire, on Monday night.

Two lifeboats and an RAF helicopter were called to the scene, and the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, which was just off the coast, was put on stand-by to help if needed.

Qualified lifeguard Robert Middleton, 46, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was on the beach with his family when his wife saw one of the girls in trouble.

Despite still recovering from recent surgery to remove a large kidney stone, Mr Middleton dived in to help.

He said: "I looked round and thought nobody else was going to do anything.

"Although I am not 100 per cent fit, I thought I couldn't stand there and watch someone drown."

Despite being a strong swimmer, Mr Middleton got into difficulties.

He said: "I underestimated how much strength I had lost with the surgery.

"I held my breath and used every last ounce of strength to swim out sideways from the rip-tide -I was only semiconscious by this point."

He managed to get near the shore, where he was pulled to safety by his stepson, wife and two passers-by.

He was airlifted to Scarborough Hospital as a precaution and released.

The girls, and one of their fathers, who also dived in to help, were pulled from the water and taken by ambulance to Whitby Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia and shock. The group are thought to be from Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Hours earlier, a man in his 40s was pulled to safety by a surfer after he got into difficulties while swimming.

Other incidents on the east coast over the Bank Holiday weekend included a broken down pleasure boat stranded near Sunderland and a disabled speedboat near Bridlington, Humberside.

Coastguard officer Mike Green said: "It was a busy weekend, but no busier than we expect when the weather is fine."

He urged swimmers to take care when entering the water.

He said: "If you are going to go in the water, make sure you'll be safe.

"Never swim after eating a heavy meal and remember that the water can be very cold at any time of the year."