A holidaymaker has told of the moment he watched his best friend get dragged under a large wave early on New Year’s Day and not reappear.
Jonathan Burgess was speaking this morning at the inquest into the death of Harry Swordy, who died after skinny dipping with friends on Loe Bar at around 1am on January 1 this year.
His body was washed up on the beach at Porthleven the following day, where it was discovered by a member of the public around 8.40am.
Mr Swordy, 27, was among a party of 23 friends who had been staying at Chyvarloe Bunkhouse, the end National Trust holiday cottage on a track leading down to the beach at Loe Bar.
Arriving from the Bristol and Guildford area from around 6.30pm on New Year’s Eve, the friends had cooked a meal and enjoyed a few drinks each, although witnesses from the party said no one had been drinking to excess.
It was just before 1am that it was suggested a few of the party should go down onto the beach to paddle in the shallow waves.
Although warned off by some, who were concerned that the sea was too rough, a group of six decided to continue with the plan.
Two stayed on the shore to watch, while another four stripped off and entered the sea – among them was Mr Swordy.
Slightly ahead of the others, it was then that a large waved knocked him off his feet and under the water.
Friend Jonathan Burgess, who was also among the skinny dippers, told the inquest in Truro: “As we entered a wave had just broken and washed up the beach. A bigger wave broken and we saw Harry and [another friend] disappear. Then myself and Olly were knocked over.”
Although the remaining three managed to return to their feet, there was no sign of Mr Swordy – despite a 45-minute search by torchlight by the friends and a subsequent search all night and through the day by coastguards, police, lifeboats and a helicopter from RNAS Culdrose.
Mr Burgess admitted: “It would be fair to say we did not appreciate how rough the sea was before we entered.”
When asked whether there had been warning signs, he replied: “I recall seeing some sort of warning sign on the track but I did not read it.”
DC Neil Harvey from Penzance Police Station confirmed that there were signs on the track leading to the beach and also on the beach itself, warning: “Caution, strong currents and deep water. Do not enter the sea at any time.”
Medical evidence found that Mr Swordy, a teaching assistant from Ashburton, Newton Abbott, was killed by injuries consistent with immersion in rough sea, most significantly a broken neck. He also had water in his lungs.
Coroner Dr Emma Carlyon ruled accidental death.