An inquiry in the UK has heard how a family surfing holiday ended in tragedy within a few minutes and took the lives of three people, including a surgeon.
Stuart Calder, 52, was on a holiday with his wife Claire and two of their four children together with other relatives from their village near Newquay, Cornwall in the UK. Mr Calder, a surfer with more than 30 years’ experience, died while trying to save two of his sons, Hugo and Milo and two other adolescents from the strong sea currents. Rachel Dunn, 42, and her partner Kevin Reynolds, 44, also died.
Hugo Calder, who will be starting university next year, described how the tragedy unfolded on 26 October in Mawgan Porth. He said that when he went down to the beach there were no signs to warn swimmers about the strong currents.
He said when he went out surfing with his brother Milo, he saw a girl, around 15 years old, who asked him to help her as she was finding it difficult to return to shore. He managed to hold her and drag her towards more shallow water so that she could walk back to the beach.
He then saw that his brother was helping Gethin Robson and his sister, who signalling to him that their brother William had also found himself in difficulty. He said that the waves were pounding William and he was waving to him and shouting for help. He paddled towards him on his board and managed to reach him; the teenager then grabbed on to the surfboard and together they tried to paddle towards the shore.
It was at this point that he saw Kevin Reynolds struggling in the water, and he too grabbed on to Hugo’s surfboard which made it more difficult for them to paddle towards land. Hugo then saw his father trying to swim towards them but was finding it too difficult because of the strong waves, and in fact he started to panic and began shouting for help. Calder said he left the other two people holding on to the surfboard and swam towards his father. When he reached him, the two of them managed to get back to the board and hold on to it as well.
He described that, at this point, there were four people holding on to the board and trying to swim to shore, but the waves began to sweep them in different directions. He said that they then reached Milo and held on to his board so that there were now three people on each board. However, when he looked back to see where his father was he realized that three of the people had fallen off the board and the board was swept away with no one on it. “I knew something terrible had happened,” said Calder in his testimony.
He recalled how he saw his father’s dead body floating near him and although he tried to drag him on to the board, the body kept sliding back into the water. The currents were too strong and the waves prevented him from holding on to his father. They therefore had to leave him out at sea in order to get back to shore.
The tragedy occurred in October during the mid-term holidays when there are no lifeguards on duty. Experienced surfers also said that the sea currents were so strong that the beach should have been closed.
The inquiry concluded that sea currents are very common and a report would be published to prevent further deaths in these circumstances.