A friend has told of the moment he watched his best friend get dragged under a large wave early on New Year’s Day at Loe Bar and not reappear.
Jonathan Burgess was speaking this morning at the inquest into the death of Harry Swordy, a teaching assistant from Ashburton, 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.