Kayaker Ollie died trying to swim for shore
PUBLISHED: 12:30 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 15:20 12 October 2015
An Exmouth man drowned at Budleigh Salterton beach after an evening kayaking with a friend went wrong, an inquest has heard.
Oliver Jones, known as Ollie, who was 20 years old, tried to swim for shore after falling out of his kayak, which had filled with water, but did not make it to the beach.
After a desperate search by friends and emergency services, he was found in the breaking waves, but could not be revived.
PC Ian Schofield, who took part in the search, told the inquest he believed the police had not been called by HM Coastguard until an hour into the search, and that if police had been called earlier, they ‘might have found him before it was too late’.
However, the coroner, Dr Elizabeth Earland, said there was ‘insufficient evidence’ that the delay caused or contributed to Mr Jones’s death.
The kayak used by Mr Jones, which was borrowed from a friend, was later examined by Michael Crispin, of Exeter Canoe Club, who said that a ‘bung’ which should have been fitted to plug a drainage hole was not there, meaning water could enter the hull over a period of time, which would render the kayak unstable.
He said: “This kayak should not have been used in its present condition.”
Mr Crispin also said Mr Jones, who was wearing a wetsuit top and shorts, should have been wearing a buoyancy aid.
A post-mortem report found that there was no trace of drugs or alcohol in Mr Jones’s system.
The inquest heard police seized ‘bongs’ used for drug taking from near the scene.
PC Schofield said nobody there seemed under the influence of any intoxicant.
Concluding the inquest at County Hall, Exeter, Dr Earland, coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, said: “The cause of death given by the pathologist was drowning. I’m satisfied that between 6.50pm and 7.15pm on October 16, 2013, Oliver, a novice kayaker but a strong swimmer, got into difficulties as he swam to the shore, about 10 to 20 metres away, after handing his waterlogged kayak to a fellow kayaker.
“He was not wearing a buoyancy aid.
“I am satisfied, on the balance of probability, his death was an accident, so my conclusion is accidental death.”
The inquest heard that Mr Jones, a team leader recycling operative who lived in Caroline Close, went to the beach that day to meet a group of friends, including Jay Freer and Morgan Tinsley, at the beach hut owned by Mr Tinsley’s family.
Mr Jones and Mr Freer then went out in kayaks belonging to Mr Tinsley’s family.
The inquest heard that after about an hour, Mr Jones said they were too far out and should head back.
Mr Freer told the inquest: “Both kayaks started filling up with water. We were both saying ‘We should go in now, it’s probably a bit dangerous, it shouldn’t be like this, we should start heading in’, so we did.
“Probably about 20 metres offshore, we noticed we weren’t actually in line with the beach hut, so we would have to drag the kayaks up the beach, so we said we would go horizontal to the shoreline.
“I was in front of Ollie, so I didn’t see him capsize. I turned round and he was out of his kayak, sort of pushing towards shore kicking.
“I said ‘Are you alright?’ from a distance. He said ‘This isn’t happening very well, this isn’t working’.”
Mr Freer said he told Mr Jones to forget about the kayak.
“My initial thought was he’s just gonna have to swim, else we’re gonna die.
“I said ‘I’ll take the kayak’. The plan was for him to swim and try and get to shore, and me keep an eye on him from behind, holding on to the kayak.”
Mr Freer said that when Mr Jones swam off, he could initially see his head bobbing up and down, but then lost sight of him when he was within 10 metres of the shore.
Mr Freer then made his way to shore with the two kayaks.
He told the inquest he initially thought that Mr Jones was ‘probably dead’, but then also thought he may have made it back to the beach hut.
But his worst fears were confirmed when he got back to the beach hut and found that Mr Jones was not there, after which the alarm was raised.
An intensive search followed, involving HM Coastguard and police.
After 90 minutes, Mr Jones was found by three other friends of his who had joined the search. Coastguard paramedics were unable to revive him, and death was confirmed at 9.35pm.