A HIGHTOWN man has spoken of the terrifying moment he thought he would die on Loch Ness.
Alistair McQuillan came within five minutes of death when his canoe was capsized by a freak wave on the infamous Scottish lake.
The 23-year-old was on the third day of a fundraising canoeing expedition – along with brother Nick, 20, and two friends – when the drama unfolded.
Although they set off in perfect weather, conditions took an abrupt turn for the worse by the time they reached the middle of the loch.
One of the two canoes, carrying Alistair and his friend, Mark Fleming, capsized when they were hit by a massive wave.
After two attempts to get back into the canoe failed, Mark began to swim for shore, but Alistair was unable to follow him after his legs became entangled with a bag which had been thrown from the craft.
He said: “I thought I was a dead man.”
By sheer chance, the pair were spotted in the water by a passing motorist who happened to be a canoeing instructor.
He called for help from Loch Ness RNLI and was able to guide the lifeboat crew to the right location.
By the time he was rescued, Alistair had been in the freezing cold water for 25 minutes and was suffering from severe hypothermia. He has now made a full recovery from his terrifying experience on Saturday and is now back home with his mother and father in Hightown.
Reliving the nightmare, he said: “When we set off, it was beautiful, sunny weather and Loch Ness was like a millpond with no waves. But then, when we were about halfway across, the weather suddenly turned absolutely horrendous.
“The waves were really high and it was like facing sea conditions in an open canoe.
“Then this one wave came up and hit us from behind, tipping the base of the canoe over the front of the canoe, and we were both thrown into the water. “The waves were so high we couldn’t right the canoe and by this time it was full of water. We were both shouting and screaming ‘Help!’.” Mark started to swim for shore, but my legs had become entangled and I was stranded in the middle of the loch.
“I thought I was a dead man as not many cars go past and there was no-one to raise the alarm.”
Thanks to the passing canoe instructor, two lifeboat crews were quickly at the scene to rescue the two men.
Alistair was pulled from the water while Mark, who had reached the shoreline, was lifted off the cliff face to a waiting ambulance. Both were treated in hospital in Inverness for hypothermia.
Alistair said he hoped his near brush with death would help raise awareness of how dangerous Loch Ness can be, even to experienced canoeists.
He added: “What surprised me was how the weather can change in a matter of 15 minutes from gorgeous to absolutely horrendous.”
The canoeing expedition by Alistair and his friends was to raise money for the New Hope for Africa charity, which helps Ugandan orphans.