Camber Sands deaths: Request for lifeguards turned down

Emergency teams at Camber Sands on 24 August 2016 Image copyright PA / @Tashka4
Image caption Two brothers died with three of their friends at Camber last year

The RNLI turned down a request to provide lifeguards at Camber Sands 16 days before five friends drowned on the beach, an inquest has been told.

The request from Rother District Council was rejected by the lifeboat charity because of a lack of resources.

Darren Lewis, the RNLI's senior lifeguard manager, told the hearing in Hastings: "We just physically did not have the manpower."

He said following the deaths the RNLI offered to put lifeguards on the beach.

The charity offered to provide lifeguard cover for the next bank holiday and then for the rest of the season, after being able to reallocate resources, Mr Lewis said.

Two brothers, Ken, 18, and Kobi Saththiyanathan, 22, died at the Sussex beach in August along with three of their friends.

Earlier a beach-goer told the inquest into their deaths he felt "unnerved" by the sea conditions on the day five young friends drowned at Camber Sands.

Stephen Deacon said the water looked calm on the surface but there was a strong undercurrent.

"I wouldn't have gone to the beach if I knew it was like that," he added.

Mr Deacon told the hearing he saw the five men chest-deep in the water playing volleyball before later seeing a Coastguard helicopter.

He said he was in the sea with his three children and their dinghy but took them back to shore when he realised how strong the current was.

Image copyright PA
Image caption "Competent swimmer" Nitharsan Ravi was studying aeronautical engineering at Brighton

"It made me uncomfortable," he added, "like I couldn't control my body."

Mr Deacon said there were no warning notices about the nature of the sands, which has "lots of pockets of shallow and deep holes", and no flag was flying on the day.

The only warning he saw was about the possibility of jellyfish, he added.

Another witness, surfer Amy Wood, 17, told the inquest she helped rescue another young man in trouble in the water on the same day, and also saw the five Asian men further out at sea "waving their arms and bobbing up and down".

Miss Wood, from Kent, said she thought they were just playing around and was concentrating on getting the distressed man back safely to shore.

She told the hearing when she went back to check she could not see the men, but said she did see the helicopter arrive.

'Another body'

The inquest heard "hysteria" broke out as people were urged to get out of the water as the friends' bodies were discovered.

Beach relief coastal officer Stephen Benn said there was a sense of shock as the first body was pulled from the water.

In his statement he said someone had shouted: "There's another body."

Five minutes after learning of the discovery of a second body, Mr Benn said they were made aware of a third one.

He said: "At this point I was just in shock. I couldn't believe it."

It was a perfect summer's day, with totally calm water, not even a ripple."

Beach patrol officer Katherine Morgan told the hearing there were lots of warnings across the beach about sandbars and leaflets about beach safety were available at the offices.

She was asked if practices had changed after two people died at the beach earlier in July.

"We were told to be a lot more observant about people going into the sea who may have consumed alcohol, and vulnerable people going into the water, and the sandbars came into play as well," Ms Morgan said.

Camber Sands victims

Kenugen Saththiyanathan, 18, known as Ken, died alongside his brother Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, 22, known as Kobi, both from Erith, south east London.

Their three friends, who also died on 24 August, were Nitharsan Ravi, 22, from Plumstead, Inthushan Sriskantharasa, 23, from Grays, Essex, and Gurushanth Srithavarajah, 27, from Welling.

The inquest has previously heard all five were fit, healthy and competent swimmers, with some having visited the beach at Camber before without incident.

On 24 July, Mohit Dupar, 36, from Hayes, west London, attempted to reach Brazilian Gustavo Silva Da Cruz, 19, after he got into difficulty.

Mr Silva Da Cruz died at the scene. Mr Dupar died in hospital four days later.

The deaths prompted calls for improved safety at Camber, resulting in Rother District Council agreeing in February to allocate £51,000 in its 2017/18 budget to bring in seasonal lifeguard cover from this summer.

But council officials have said the beach, which is three miles (4.8km) long and nearly half-a-mile (700m) wide at low tide, could never be completely risk-free.

The hearing was also told there was a death at Camber in 2015 and three "near misses" in 2013.

The inquest continues.

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