Tia Smith and Sally McLaughlin, both 14, had been enjoying an afternoon at Sandhaven beach on Saturday with friends when they ran into difficulty in the water at about 2pm.
The pair had been in the sea just above their knees, when they were caught out by a wave that knocked them off balance and swept them away from the coast.
The friends, who both attend St Joseph’s Catholic Academy, in Hebburn, tried to hold on to each other, but the power of the water forced them apart.
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Sally, being a stronger swimmer than Tia, had to make a split-second decision to try to make her way to the safety of the beach where she could raise the alarm.
As Sally fought her way back to the shore, teenagers Adam Harbison, Anthony Maguire and Dylan Bell, spotting her in trouble, headed into the water to help her to safety. Meanwhile, friends Cameron Bevan and Oran McGuinness ran to the nearby amusements arcade, where they were able to alert police officers on duty.
As Sally was being brought to shore by her friends, a crew from Tynemouth RNLI spotted Tia in the water and managed to drag her to the safety of their boat. Both girls were taken to South Tyneside District Hospital to be checked over after receiving first aid.
Tia, from Cleadon, said: “I just kept shouting to Sally I’m going to die, and she kept saying you’re not. Then she started to drift away from me, I’m not a strong swimmer and she told me to just keep swimming, so I just started to kick my legs as fast I could.
“Just before the boat came, I had no energy left and I could feel my body giving up. I couldn’t see the beach anymore I thought that was it. When I heard someone shout ‘she’s here’ it was such a relief.”
Sally, from Hebburn, said: “I started to try and swim back but every time I felt I was getting closer to the beach, a wave would pull me further away from it.
“When I got a bit closer, I screamed for the boys to help and they ran straight in.
“There are no words to say thank you or to show how grateful we are for them saving our lives. If they weren’t as quick, or the lads weren’t there and done what they done, it would have been a completely different story.”
The girls are keen to alert parents and other young people to the dangers of the sea.