A YOUNG man drowned on holiday after getting into difficulties while practising his favourite sport of climbing, an inquest heard.
Bolton Coroner’s Court heard yesterday how Philip Hawkes, 25, was enjoying the first day of a break in Majorca in June when he decided to go with his friend Edward Bailey to try out deep water soloing – known as psycho bouldering – which involves climbing up small cliffs over the sea without ropes and using the water to cushion the landing if the climber falls off.
Mr Bailey described to the court how he and Philip went to a popular climbing spot called Cala Serena which was described in a guide book, and on arrival his friend descended to a rock ledge and decided to see what the water was like and jumped into the sea.
Despite being physically fit and a strong, experienced climber, Philip struggled to haul himself up on to the ledge using the rope ladders hanging in the water or by a sling which Edward made for him to ease the ascent.
He then decided to swim over to a nearby cave to exit the water that way, and Edward made his way to the spot to await his friend and help him from the sea. Although the exact details of what happened remain unclear as Philip was out of sight, he did not make it to the cave and was plucked from the water by a rescue boat after Mr Bailey had asked a couple walking along the cliffs to ring the police.
Philip, of Leigh Road, Leigh, was given CPR throughout the journey to shore and at the quayside but all attempts to resuscitate him were in vain.
Mr Bailey said: “Philip was really excited about the climbing and we were both comfortable with the route.
“When Philip got to the bottom he decided that as it was inevitable we would end up in the sea he wanted to jump in first so he wouldn’t be nervous about it.
“He seemed quite surprised at how difficult he was finding it to climb up the rope ladder, and he was getting a bit frustrated. We had a chat and he said he would swim over to the cave, and I said I would see him there.
“I waited at the cave for a while and then a Spanish man came in saying I had to come with him. The police were standing at the top of the cliffs and I found out Philip had died.”
The inquest heard that the two friends had thoroughly prepared for their trip, taking all necessary safety precautions and ensuring they had the correct equipment with them for their morning of climbing.
Mr Bailey said he had also logged on to a leading climbing forum to pick up any tips from people who had previously visited the Cala Serena site, but could find no safety warnings about particular difficulties or adverse currents in the sea.
As it was their first attempt at deep water soloing they chose one of the easiest routes at the site, and checked from the top of the cliff before descending that the sea was not rough.
A post-mortem examination carried out at Wigan Infirmary by Dr Stephen Mills supported the findings of an autopsy carried out by the Spanish authorities which said the cause of death was drowning due to the presence of a whitish foam in his mouth and airway.
Assistant deputy coroner Alison Mutch recorded a verdict of accidental death.
She told Philip’s family: “I am very sorry you have lost your son in these circumstances, after he had been through university and found something he loved doing.
“Philip and his friend were conscious of the need to take safety precautions, and had taken ropes they did not need to give themselves an extra level of security.
“For reasons which are not entirely clear he struggled to get out of the water, so decided to swim, which was not reckless as the sea appeared calm and he knew exactly where he was going.
“It’s unclear what happened next, but some little while later his friend raised the alarm and a rescue boat recovered Philip’s body.”