Friday, November 23, 2007

Sneaker or Freak Waves?

British hero father and son, 5, die after being hit by freak wave in Spain

My good friend and expert on freak waves PC Liu has more on this story!

Terror unfolded along the Spanish coastline this morning as a British holidaymaker and his five-year-old son drowned in a freak accident in front of their family.

The man, whose surname is Howlet, died after jumping into the sea to save his two children after they were swept into the water by a wave as they photographed the stormy waves along the coast.

Mr Howlet, 32, managed to pull his older child, a seven-year-old, to safety but drowned along with his younger son before he could reach the shore. His wife witnessed the tragedy from a few feet away but was helpless to save them.

Their bodies were later pulled from the ocean after being spotted by a coastguard helicopter.

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Tragedy: The Spanish resort of Tossa de Mar, where the boy and his father drowned

A diver has told how he tried desperately to save the pair as they drowned off the Spanish resort of Tossa de Mar.

Argentine Ezequiel Mizrahi, 38, who runs a nearby diving centre, said: "The father was taking photos of his two sons on rocks right next to the sea when a wave knocked them off balance and swept them into the water.

"I raced to get my wet suit when I saw what had happened and by the time I got back local police were already on the scene.

"The father had managed to get one of his sons to safety but the current was taking him and his younger son further and further out.

"I tried to get across the breaking waves to reach them with the help of a rope the police gave me but it was impossible.

"Every time I tried the sea just sucked me under and threw me back onto the sand.

"The first time I attempted to reach them I could see the pair's faces. They were not shouting and were just struggling to keep their heads above water.

"Then I lost sight of them. By the seventh or eighth time of trying the police told me to give up.

"I didn't see the boys' mum in all the chaos but she was around and so apparently was their grandma.

"The local police reached the scene so quickly because a local politician had been walking nearby and alerted them on his mobile."

The tragedy happened around 11am local time this morning at a beach in the resort of Tossa de Mar near Girona in north east Spain.

Coastguards pulled their bodies out of the sea after a firefighters' helicopter located them floating in the water by a nearby lighthouse.

The dead man's wife and surviving child were being treated in hospital. The woman is thought to be suffering from shock.

A local hotel worker told how he had seen the two children at the centre of this morning's tragedy playing on the beach minutes before they were swept into the sea.

The man, who asked not to be named, said: "I drove by in my van about 15 minutes before it happened and saw them playing on the rocks by the water.

"The sea was pretty stormy, the waves were about two to three metres high and I thought it was a bit risky for the children to be there.

"It was definitely red flag-type conditions. I didn't see the parents anywhere.

"The place where it happened is near a beauty spot which overlooks the bay but there's no buildings nearby.

"We've been told a freak wave dragged both youngsters into the sea and their father died along with his younger son as he tried to save them both."

The diver Ezequiel added: "The sea was pretty stormy and there was a strong wind. The spray from the waves must have been reaching the ten-metre mark.

"The rocks are a lovely place to take a photo but not in the weather conditions at the time.

"Every so often three or four big waves would come along and they made the area where the family was very dangerous."

A spokesman for Spain's Civil Guard in Girona, which is probing the incident, said: "The father died after jumping into the sea to rescue his sons when they lost their footing on the rocks.

"He managed to rescue one but died after going back in for the other."

Tossa de Mar, around 20 miles south of Girona, is far removed from brasher resorts in the area like Lloret de Mar.

It is popular with families and couples. Mar Menuda where the tragedy happened is popular with scuba divers in the summer because of its clear waters.

A police spokesman said: "What we understand happened is that the father died as he tried to rescue his two children after they swept into the sea by waves.

"He managed to pull the older one to safety but died as he tried to rescue the younger one.

"The children's mother was on the shoreline and witnessed the tragedy unfolding.

"Coastguards pulled the two bodies out of the water."

A spokesman for local coastguards added: "There was a strong force seven to eight wind in the area at the time and the sea was pretty choppy with waves several feet high.

"The bodies were located at a lighthouse the other side of the bay from where the incident happened.

"One of our vessels retrieved the bodies after being guided to the area by a firefighter's helicopter."

The sandy beach where the tragedy happened, a sandy cove known as Mar Menuda, is thought to have been deserted at the time because of the bad weather.

Authorities have not yet disclosed the family's name.

Heavy rains meanwhile hit southern Spain, with more than 1,000 homes partly under water in Utrera near Seville. Dozens of people were evacuated.

In nearby Ecija, the River Genil was about to overflow its banks.

Today's deaths follow the drownings of three British holidaymakers in the Algarve this summer.

Robert and Deborah Fry, from Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, dived into rough waters in a desperate attempt to save four youngsters during a half-term holiday.

They, along with friend and fellow holidaymaker Jean Dinsmore, also from Wootton Bassett, died in the ill-fated rescue bid off Praia do Tonel beach near Sagres on October 22.

The Frys' children, Rosie, 11, and George, nine, and Mrs Dinsmore's husband Roy, daughter Lydia, 11, and son Alexander, nine, survived the tragedy


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The captain and first officer gave the order to leave the MV Explorer after it was holed by an iceberg. They were the only men to remain on board.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have not had any reports of anyone seriously injured. We are in contact with all the relevant authorities. STORY