Schoolboy lifeguard rushed into sea to help Polish family in riptide

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A schoolboy sprinted into the sea to help a Polish family caught in a riptide off a busy Norfolk beach, an inquest heard.

Beachgoers initially thought the father and three sons were enjoying themselves when they heard shouts in Polish around 50m (164ft) from the shoreline, but rushed into the waves with body boards when they realised they were in distress.

Leszek Puchala, 52, and one of his sons, who was not named, were face down in the water and unconscious.

His two other sons, Tomasz and Sebastian, were conscious and made it to shore at Sea Palling, near Great Yarmouth, on July 23.

Trained lifeguard David Castleman, 14, helped tow the unconscious son to shore on a body board. He was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by air ambulance and survived.

Leszek Puchala, a builder who was visiting the UK from Poland to see his new-born granddaughter in Thetford, was pronounced dead at the scene, having drowned.

Schoolboy Mr Castleman, recounting the rescue, said in a written statement: "I could hear screaming in the distance but dismissed it as people messing around.

"After walking closer a man approached us and asked if any of us were strong swimmers.

"I took off my shoes and shirt before running and diving in towards the people, who were around 50-60m out in the sea."

He said two men were face down in the water and he turned them over then towed the younger man to shore, where a group, including an off-duty doctor and fireman, helped perform CPR on him.

Mr Puchala's daughter-in-law Katarzyna Puchala was at the Friday's hearing at Norfolk Coroner's Court in Norwich with her partner, who was rescued, and their baby daughter.

In a written statement she said they had been on a family day out to the seaside, put a blanket down and the men took their T-shirts off and went into the sea.

She heard someone shouting and initially dismissed it "thinking somebody was kidding" before realising they were in trouble.

Matthew Steiner, who was at the beach, said: "The people were Polish and this may have been a reason why it was not clear that they were in trouble."

He added the beach was busy and the sound could not be heard clearly over the noise of others having fun.

The man-made rock barriers off the beach could create strong riptides, he added.

"Locals understand that if they're caught in the tide to go with the current and they will eventually come clear, but anyone else may not know this and it could be easy to panic and fight against it, wearing yourself out and getting into trouble," he said.

Mr Castleman and others, including Norwich man Neil Ramsey, have been put forward for bravery awards for their rescue efforts on the day.

Area coroner Yvonne Blake, recording a narrative conclusion, said: "Mr Puchala got into difficulties while swimming.

"He was pulled ashore and resuscitation commenced.

"Unfortunately this did not succeed and he was pronounced dead at the scene."

She told his family: "It's a really tragic outcome on what should have been a happy occasion for you with the birth of your baby and the grandparents coming to see you."

His family said in a written statement: "We would like to thank our father for always providing us with help, advice and his loving heart.

"He was a very good man who never refused to help anybody.

"A loving and devoted husband, father-of-three and grandfather and a loyal friend to many."

Around 200 people attended his funeral.