A devoted dad who drowned while surfing desperately tried to cling to his teenage son after they were overcome by a ”vicious” rip tide, an inquest heard today.
Nigel Hayes, 51, and his son Daniel, 14, were ‘boogie boarding’ off Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall, when they were swept 40ft out to sea.
They clung to each other as they tried to paddle back to shore – but were torn apart and separated by 4ft high waves.
Daniel was rescued by an experienced surfer but his father drowned and his lifeless body washed ashore shortly afterwards.
In a statement read at the inquest in Truro yesterday, grammar school pupil Daniel described the harrowing moment he and his father were separated by the waves.
He said: ”It was about 5.55pm but it was a warm, sunny day and we wanted to go surfing and make the most beach even though we were not big surfers.
”The waves looked as they do on TV, forming and crashing down not foamy and white, it looked safe.
”We went into the sea and stayed in shallow water but the waves got bigger, reaching about 4ft high.
”As we tried to go back, the current kept dragging us out. We tried to cling together but the waves separated us and dragged me under.
”When I looked back, Dad was 20ft behind me and the waves kept going over me.
”I had been taken by the surf into the shallower water when a surfer came to help me.
”I looked back and saw dad and I thought he was dead. That was the last time I saw him before a helicopter took me to me hospital.”
Tragedy struck on Sunday July 19 last year as Daniel, his mum Charmaine and dad Nigel, of Little Waltham near Chelmsford in Essex, enjoyed a holiday in Newquay.
They got into danger but were not spotted until experienced surfer Ruben Martinez, 31, noticed them 40ft out to sea.
He paddled out but was only able to rescue Daniel before the current brought unconscious Mr Hayes to the shore.
He was taken by helicopter to Treliske Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Mr Martinez, a graphic designer, who was at the beach with his girlfriend, said as the conditions worsened families and other surfers left the sea.
He said: ”I got to the beach about 5.30pm and the lifeguards were packing up to go home.
”I could see the conditions were dangerous especially for inexperienced surfers.
”I was just going back in to catch one last wave, when I saw a body board float past.
”I worried that there might be a youngster stranded in the water, then I saw another cheap body board float past.
”I then saw two people struggling in the water, the current was dragging them out to sea.
”The dad was panicking a lot and they kept getting separated. After trying to help them, I swam to shore to call 999 then I went back in to get the child.
”The boy was shouting ‘my dad is dead, my dad is dead’ as I pulled him out of the water.”
Coastguard Jeremy Griffiths said: ”The sea was booming, it was so loud. There was a very strong current, wind and surf.
”It is not recommended to swim in the water after the lifeguards have left the beach.”
A police spokesman said Mr Hayes and his son were not regular surfers and did not know about the dangers of tidal currents.
He said: ”The boards they were using had been purchased in a sale and were cheap polystyrene boards intended for use by children in shallow water.”
Coroner Barry Van de Berg said the incident was an utter tragedy.
He said: ”No one expects to go on holiday and have such an awful tragedy happen, where their lives are ruined.
”It is a dreadful loss to the family and I offer my sincerest sympathy.
”I also offer congratulations to Mr Martinez who was very courageous and gave both father and son the right advice.”
The cause of death was drowning and Mr Van de Berg recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Mr Hayes, a BT field engineering manager for more than 30 years, also has a daughter Chloe, 18.