Improved warning signs were erected at a north Dublin beach shortly after a man drowned at the popular bathing spot two years ago, an inquest has heard.
Mark Richardson (54), a married father of four from Cois Inbhir, Donabate, Co Dublin, died after getting into difficulty while swimming at the nearby beach at Tower Bay in Portrane on October 18th 2021.
A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court heard evidence of how Mr Richardson and another swimmer got into difficulty within a minute of getting in the water.
The deceased’s friend and neighbour, David Smyth, told the inquest that it was the first time he had gone swimming at Tower Bay.
Mr Smyth said he and Mr Richardson only planned a dip in the sea for a few minutes when they left to go swimming at around 10.25am.
He said Mr Richardson, who swam regularly at the location, had told him to prepare for how cold the water would be.
Mr Smyth said there was a strong wind when they arrived at Tower Bay and Mr Richardson said if the conditions were not suitable they would try another more sheltered swimming area nearby.
“The waves looked to be big, but they did not look too rough,” Mr Smyth recalled.
He said Mr Richardson had told him that they were about the same size as when he had gone swimming the previous day.
The inquest heard that both men had tied inflatable swim buoys around their waist which Mr Richardson had provided.
As soon as they entered the water Mr Smyth said they were hit by a big wave and both laughed at the exhilaration of the moment.
However, Mr Smyth described his surprise at finding himself about 25-30 feet away from the shore after diving into the next wave which he attributed to a riptide.
“I didn’t panic, but I felt something was not right, and I felt the need to get back to land,” he added. At the time he said Mr Richardson, who was about eight feet away from him, also seemed to be struggling.
Mr Smyth said his friend was holding onto his swim buoy and seemed to gesture with his head to swim back towards the beach.
When he realised that he was getting nowhere despite his efforts, Mr Smyth, who described himself as a moderately strong swimmer, said he remembered thinking that “we were in real trouble.”
Mr Smyth said he began to cough and retch and was struggling to get air into his lungs but managed to make some progress by switching to a backstroke.
The inquest heard he was turned “head over feet” a number of times by a series of large waves.
“I didn’t know if I was facing up or down,” he observed.By this stage, he could see that Mr Richardson was even further out from the shore.
Mr Smyth said he eventually felt stones underneath his feet and he was able to scramble back to the beach.
He told the inquest that he could see Mr Richardson floating on his back about 30 feet from the shore.
Although he shouted out, Mr Smyth said he did not think his friend could hear him because of the crashing sound of the waves.
Mr Smyth said he rang the emergency services and ran to a nearby car park in a frantic state trying to get help. He said he became physically sick and found it hard to describe the feeling of seeing his friend still struggling in the sea.
The inquest heard how other people, who had arrived at the beach, had unsuccessfully tried to throw a ringbuoy to Mr Richardson. However, the tide eventually carried him towards the beach and several men were able to help pull him out of the surf by going knee-deep into the water.
Mr Smyth said the Irish Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the scene followed by an ambulance crew which transported Mr Richardson and himself to Beaumont hospital.
He described how he was informed of his friend’s death while receiving treatment at the hospital.
In reply to questions from the coroner, Clare Keane, Mr Smyth said the sea conditions did not look “overly threatening” when they started their swim.
However, he accepted that with hindsight it was probably “not a good idea” to have gone swimming at the time.
Mr Smyth said he believed there was a small warning sign at the time to advise swimmers of dangerous currents.
The inquest heard that larger, more visible signs were erected at Tower Bay shortly after Mr Richardson’s drowning.
“It’s no harm, to be honest,” Mr Smyth remarked.
He said the only reason he had managed to get out of the water was because of the inflatable swim buoy that his friend had given him.
The deceased’s wife, Irene Richardson, said she understood the only sign at the time of the incident was one advising that the area should only be used by competent swimmers.
However, Ms Richardson said it was “a good thing” that more prominent signs were now in place which also warned the public about dangerous currents at Tower Bay.
She told the inquest that the beach had become a popular swimming area during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms Richardson said she was alerted by a call from a neighbour shortly after 11.30am that her husband was being brought to Beaumont Hospital after getting into difficulty while swimming.
She described rushing to the hospital where she was informed by a doctor that he had passed away.
She recalled begging medical staff to keep on working trying to save her husband as he had “a very strong heart.”
Ms Richardson recalled how the weather at their family home before her husband set out for the beach that day was “quite pleasant” but it seemed to be different at Tower Bay.
She said he had been in good form that day “as always.”
Ms Richardson said her husband would swim almost all year round apart from the winter months and was a “very cautious” swimmer and “not a risk-taker.”
“He was not a competent but a confident swimmer,” she added.She told the coroner that he would only ever swim out to the nearest market buoy located at Tower Bay.
Ms Richardson said he was happy to swim out of his depth but would not go “out into the sea.”
In hindsight, she told the coroner that her husband did not look well in photos taken over the previous few days.
A passer-by who arrived at Tower Bay during the incident, Sarah Jane Orange, said several people performed CPR on Mr Richardson after he was taken out of the water before someone else brought a defibrillator which was used until paramedics arrived at the scene.
The inquest heard that Mr Richardson had suffered a cardiac arrest, while paramedics were unable to detect a heartbeat.
Dr Keane said post-mortem results showed injuries consistent with drowning but also that Mr Richardson had left ventricular hypertrophy – a thickening and enlargement of the heart’s main pump.
Returning a verdict of accidental death, Dr Keane said she would write to Fingal County Council to notify them of the inquest and the safety issues raised during the hearing.