A FAMILY including two young girls suffered serious injuries when a 200-foot cliff face collapsed – sending a barrage of rocks crashing down on to them as they strolled along a beach.
The mother, her partner and her two daughters, aged seven and eight, were battered by falling rocks as a section of cliffs on the Jurassic Coast gave way above them.
Emergency services said the girls' mother, in her thirties, bore the brunt of the collapse – suffering serious injuries including a suspected broken hip and spinal injuries. She was last night said to be in "a poor condition" and had been "drifting in and out of consciousness" as she was airlifted to hospital. The man, in his forties, was struck on the head by a falling rock and was lucky not to have been killed.
He was last night battling to recover from "severe head injuries" while the two daughters were said to be in a state of shock after they were hit on the shoulder and back during the terrifying ordeal. None of their injuries was thought to be life-threatening.
They were walking along Charmouth beach, near Bridport, West Dorset, when the cliff collapsed yesterday, sending rocks and boulders hurtling downwards, some striking the family. They were about one mile east of Charmouth when they were caught in the fall.
Rescue crews were soon on the scene, including a coastguard helicopter and an air ambulance crew, while emergency services sent a doctor and fast response car, before the four members of the family were lifted on stretchers and taken to Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester where they remained last night.
Other members of the coastguard team made their way to the cliff top and began ushering other member of the public away from the area in case of further falls.
It is not yet known where the family are from as they were too badly hurt to respond to questions from the emergency services last night.
The alarm was raised shortly after 4.30pm when Portland Coastguard received a call that four people had been caught under a rock fall.
Members of the Lyme Coastguard Rescue Team and the Westcountry Ambulance Service arrived at the scene, and cordoned off part of the beach.
Graham Turner, of West Bay coastguard, said the incident happened at a place known as Stonebarrow Down.
He said: "The family were fossil hunting on the beach as were a lot of other people but they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"The woman was the most seriously injured and was taken away on a spinal board, she was unable to talk.
"Her partner was hit on the side of the head by a lump of rock and he was very lucky that he wasn't struck on top of it because it would have killed him."
He said both girls were in deep shock because of what had happened to their mother. He said: "I carried one of them into the helicopter that had landed on the beach."
Yesterday's incident was the latest in a number of rock slides along the Jurassic Coastline – a favourite for geologists, due to new sections of cliff face being exposed following each rock slide.
The incident happened three weeks after a nine-year-old boy and a girl aged 11 escaped death when they were struck by large falling rocks at Lulworth.
In a separate incident this month, an estimated tonne of land crumbled into the sea between Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Last year, about 400m (1,312ft) of cliff in the area fell into the sea in what coastguards described as the "worst landslip for 100 years" in Dorset.