Brave dad who drowned trying to rescue daughter, 10, from thrashing waves said ‘hold my hand’ with final breath
A brave dad who drowned trying to rescue his daughter told her to “hold my hand” with his final breath.
Businessman Simon Pearson, 47, lost his strength and died as he battled to hold 10-year-old Lily up above the waves.
He had been swimming with her and his father-in-law Anthony McGregor at Lido Bosco Verde in Ostuni, southern Italy, where the family was on holiday when they got into trouble.
Mr McGregor managed to alert Simon’s wife Emma to the danger before clinging to a buoy to survive.
But a rescuer who reached Simon and Lily was only able to rescue the girl.
Italian beach worker Martino Maggi, 49, also died trying to save the family.
An inquest concluded that former public schoolboy Simon, from Old Church Stoke, Powys, died as a result of drowning in the incident on July 18.
His family did not attend the hearing at Shirehall in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, but a statement from his wife was read out in the court.
Emma, 43, wrote: “Lily told me that the whole time the only word Simon uttered was ‘hold my hand’.
“She said ‘he was working so hard to try and save me’ but then her dad lost his strength.
“Simon was a dearly loved husband, son and father and we will never forget how hard Simon worked to save his daughter.”
Coroner’s Officer Julie Hartridge told the hearing that Simon, the managing director of building firm Jesmonite, was a “healthy man” and an experienced swimmer.
The inquest heard that Simon, Emma, their two children Lily, 10, and Monty, six, along with Emma’s parents Yolanda and Anthony McGregor settled at the beach at 9.30am, just minutes before the tragedy.
They had been visiting the resort for 15 years and were familiar with the area.
There had been a storm two days prior to the incident and people had been warned not to enter the water the day before.
However, in her statement, Emma said there was no warning given on July 18 and the water seemed “gentle”.
She wrote: “The Lido Bosco Verdi is a resort that we know very well and have been visiting it for 15 years. The 15 years that we have visited we were never aware of a dangerous tide and the water also seemed safe.
“My father has been a lifelong member of the Lifeboat Institute. He told me that the red flags meant that swimmers should exercise caution.
“On July 17 we were advised by the staff not to enter the water and no such warning was given on July 18.”
Emma told her father to be careful and not to swim too far into the sea because of the red flags.
Shortly after he entered the water, Simon and Lily followed him.
However, Emma quickly noticed that something was wrong because of her father’s erratic swimming.
She heard his cries for help and immediately ran to a lifeboat station, before attempting to launch a rescue boat herself.
Emma wrote: “My attention was drawn from Simon and Lily to my father. He was swimming and stopping which was odd.
“I wondered why he was not coming back to shore. He told me after that he was trying to get my attention to warn others not to come into the water because of the strong current.
“I was shouting to him to get back. I heard him shout ‘Emma help me’. I went to a lifeboat station and I was shouting for help.
“A man entered the water and started going towards Simon and Lily. I tried to get the boat out, but I couldn’t manage it. A second and a third man came I was still shouting for help.
“I saw Simon holding Lily above the water. The other man was struggling.”
The inquest heard that two men, Martino Maggi and another man known as Ibrahim, swam towards Simon and Lily to save them.
Ibrahim managed to reach the pair and faced a choice of who to save. He took Lily and managed to get her back to shore. Maggi himself got into difficulty and drowned.
Emma said: “Ibrahim managed to reach Lily and got her back to shore. He told me afterwards he had to make a choice between Simon and Lily and he couldn’t get both back.
“By this time a number of people formed a human chain to get to Simon. I looked and saw my father still holding on to the buoy.
“I realised that Simon was dead. I realised that Martino had not returned. I could see him floating I knew he was dead.
“As I walked past Martino I touched his chest and told him I was sorry and I know he tried to help Simon.”
The inquest was told doctors in Italy found Simon’s lungs full of water.
Shropshire Coroner Mr John Ellery recorded a conclusion that Simon’s death was caused by drowning.
Mr Ellery said: “It was clearly an accident. This was a double tragedy and our condolences to both the Pearson family and Martino’s family in Italy.”
Following the deaths Giuseppe Chiarelli of Brindisi Port Authority said the stretch of coastline “unfortunately isn’t new to this kind of tragedy”.
As recently as July 14 four lifeguards rescued three Russian tourists and an Italian who were unable to return to the shore of a nearby beach.
Simon was named as an ‘export champion’ in March – one of 28 top Midland’s businessmen picked to promote the region’s firms around the world.
Jesmonite makes mouldings to look like stone, marble, china or other materials and in recent years produced nearly 6,000 pieces of decorative artwork for P&O’s new £473 million cruise ship Britannia.
Alongside Jesmonite, he also ran design firm Feathercast with Emma.
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