Wigan rugby player died after he was swept out to sea when he dived in to save his children

The wife of a former professional rugby league player from Wigan who drowned after he jumped into the sea to save his children said his death was “a catastrophic accident waiting to happen” and it could have been prevented.

David Fell, 55, was on holiday with his family on July 22 when his son and daughter, who are both teenagers, got into difficulty in the water at Reighton Gap beach, near Filey in North Yorkshire.

An inquest heard he was swept out to sea by a rip tide after he went in to help. He was pulled from the water by a Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) crew and CPR was attempted, but he was pronounced dead at 2.58pm.

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Rugby player from Wigan dies after being swept out to sea in horrific rip tide
David Fell

Several people on the beach also went in and managed to rescue his son and daughter, who was then taken to Scarborough General Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit.

Fiona Fell said her husband and their children would not have gone into the water if there were signs warning people about rip tides on the beach, which is next to Reighton Sands Holiday Park.

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Bourne Leisure, which owns the company Haven Holidays that runs the holiday park, disputed her claim and said there are a number of warning signs.

The inquest heard there are three signs that warn people "water is unpredictable" and explain what they should do if someone gets into difficulty, but no signs warning people specifically about rip tides, no lifeguards and no flag warning system.

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Mrs Fell said: “My family and I are deeply shocked and upset by all that has happened. I have had to face the realisation that I lost my husband but could have also lost my children."

She added: “I can say that there were definitely no warning signs, flags, lifebuoys or any lifeguards on duty on the beach that day.

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“I am very diligent with regards to looking for these things, as my son suffers with epilepsy. If I'd known the potential dangers of ‘rip tides’ and currents I would have never allowed them to go into the sea.

“I feel adequate measures must be put in place immediately in order to prevent another family from grieving forever. Just as we were.

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“We, as a family, feel this has been a catastrophic accident waiting to happen.”

Mrs Fell also said her daughter still requires treatment after suffering an abdominal aortic rupture during the incident.

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The inquest heard that rescuers managed to pull her son and daughter to safety using paddleboards and a man on the beach used a drone to try and locate her husband, before the RNLI crew arrived.

Jenna Free told the inquest: “We looked and we looked, but couldn’t see anything, it felt like ages.

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“The lifeguard boat came and it started to come towards us. I directed them up to the sky, where my husband's drone was, so they had a kind of an idea of where to go.”

In a statement released after the incident, the RNLI said the crew were on scene “very quickly” - as they were preparing to take part in an exercise nearby when the emergency call came in - and Mr Well was transferred to paramedics in Filey "at top speed by boat" but pronounced dead later that day.

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Mr Fell played rugby league professionally for Rochdale Hornets and Salford Red Devils in the 1980s and 90s. He also represented Lancashire.

The inquest, which is expected to last two days, continues.

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