A DOG walker plunged 20ft to his death from a narrow cliff edge yesterday in a tragic incident witnessed by his wife.
The man, named locally as Robert Gordon Harkess, fell while out for a morning walk with his wife, Mabel, and the family spaniel.
Mr Harkess, 69, landed on rocks at Whitberry Point, near Dunbar, East Lothian, at around 8am.
It took nearly three hours to rescue the stricken pensioner, with two helicopters, police, ambulance and coastguards struggling to reach him in the steep, wooded area.
He was finally winched up to an RAF Sea King at about 10:40am and flown to hospital in Edinburgh, but doctors were unable to save him. He is understood to have suffered major head injuries.
His wife, who lived with her husband in nearby East Linton, is also believed to have been taken to the same hospital to receive treatment for shock.
Rescuers had faced a battle against the tide as they struggled to remove the pensioner from the rocks. One witness said the waters were “lapping” around the casualty as he was finally winched up to a helicopter.
One eye-witness at Tyninghame beach said: “I saw the man lying still... (and) I could see medics and police working around him with the incoming tide lapping around him.
“They were at it for about two hours before the Sea King arrived at about 10:30am and took him up with two medics who were treating him.”
He added: “The cliffs might only be around 20 feet high, but the path is narrow and winding and right at the edge.
“Add that with the rocks at the bottom and it makes for a very dangerous route.”
Fellow dog walker Fiona Mains, 70, from East Linton, said the terrain was dangerous underfoot.
She said: “I walk my dog here three times a week and it doesn’t surprise me to hear about the accident. It’s very windy here and the edge is very slippery. I’m always very careful not to go too near the edge with my dogs.”
Paying tribute to Mr Harkess, a family friend described him as a “very quiet, nice man”.
“He was a keen member of the local Prestonkirk Manse Church and his wife is a very nice person.
“They enjoyed walking their spaniel and he was very fit for his age but he suffered from the early stages of dementia,” he added.
Meanwhile, some locals questioned why it took so long to get the pensioner off the beach, despite the air ambulance being on the scene by about 8:30am.
One bystander said: “Although the air ambulance was there quickly, it could not take him away because it does not have a winch. Apparently, the doctor said he could not be carried back up the cliff because it was so slippery.
“Police at the scene were frustrated that it seemed to take so long” to get an RAF Sea King there so he could be winched up.”
However, a Lothian and Borders Police sspokesman said: “The (road) ambulance parked at about 8.15am but it took about ten minutes to walk to the scene and the air ambulance couldn’t get much closer because it was a wooded area.
“Crew attempted to move the casualty but were unable to, so the Sea King was called at about 10am.”