Student nurse, 19, drowned during late-night swim while on volunteering trip to Ghana

Millie Ann Gentry,
Student nurse Millie Ann Gentry died after drowning during a late-night swim in Ghana. (Gateway Funerals)

A trainee nurse died whilst on a trip of a lifetime when she hit her head and drowned during a midnight swim with friends.

Millie Gentry was just two weeks into a month-long volunteering trip to Ghana when she died after getting into difficulty in the water, an inquest heard

Bradford Coroners’ Court heard that the 19-year-old and her friend Erin Byrnes, along with two other volunteers, had been for a meal together in the evening during the trip in March last year.

They headed to a pool bar for a couple of drinks, before breaking a 10pm curfew set by course supervisors to go for a late night swim at around 12.30am.

The inquest heard they would have had to have climbed a "pretty big" wall to get out of the premises, which were locked at night, before reaching the beach a minute's walk away and going into the sea. Just 15 minutes later, they were swept out to sea by strong waves and 'overwhelmed', the court heard.

One of the group managed to get out and asked for help but Erin, who was not a strong swimmer, was still battling the sea. She "tried in vain" to help Millie while screaming for help but couldn't save her.

Millie was reportedly staying at Busua in Ghana. (Stock image: Getty)
Millie was reportedly staying at Busua in Ghana. (Stock image: Getty) (tschuma417 via Getty Images)

Senior Coroner Martin Fleming said Erin had "little choice" but to let go of her friend, and was eventually rescued herself.

He said: “Erin managed to desperately swim and she was recovered but of course in the case of Millie - and this is the terrible, terrible tragedy here - after the efforts of some 30 villagers, they couldn’t initially locate her. I believe she washed up some hours later."

Millie’s body was found down the beach at around 5am.

A post-mortem examination in Ghana found the teen died from asphyxiation as a result of drowning, and she also had a blunt force injury to her head. The coroner said Millie’s drowning was likely brought on by the head injury that he considered she sustained while in the sea.

Third-party involvement was excluded and there were no signs of suspicious circumstances.

Warned about sea swimming

The court heard volunteers were sent a handbook before travelling, which outlined a number of safety considerations such as swimming in the sea, including warnings not to swim at night, on your own or after having alcohol.

Fleming said there was no evidence Millie had had more than a couple of drinks and concluded her death was one of misadventure.

He said: “It’s so very clear Millie was a much-loved daughter and sister. She worked very hard academically and had the kindest and biggest of hearts, known by all who knew her.

“She had set her sights on becoming a nurse. Millie was a young woman who had so much promise ahead of her.”

A statement from her mother, Tracy, said Millie was quite a 'shy individual' who had the "kindest, biggest heart despite her having a princess complex".

Palm tree on a beach with people and a boat in the ocean behind it in Ghana, Africa
Volunteers were warned about swimming in the sea in a handbook they were given, the inquest heard. (Stock image: Getty) (Lucie Wicker via Getty Images)

How to stay safe when swimming in the sea

There is widespread guidance on staying safe if planning to swim in the sea, whether in the UK or abroad.

Advice from organisations including the Royal Life Saving Society and Swim Secure includes not swimming too far from shore, staying in groups, and avoiding being in the water during darkness or twilight.

It is also suggested not to use inflatables in open water like the sea, nor to swim after drinking alcohol, as well as always swimming parallel to the shore and staying in your depth. Weak swimmers are also warned about swimming in the sea.

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