Body-boarder who drowned could not swim

The West Strand at Portrush where body-boarder Stephen Pentony drowned last May
The West Strand at Portrush where body-boarder Stephen Pentony drowned last May

A man who drowned while body-boarding off the north coast could not swim, a coroner’s court has heard.

Stephen Pentony from Ardgreen Drive, Newry, died after getting into difficulties at the West Strand in Portrush last May.

An inquest for the 25-year-old Northern Ireland Water engineer heard how friends had tried to save him but were beaten back by the strong current and sea swell.

“He looked scared and tired,” Rachel Herron said in a statement read to the court.

Ms Herron, who was not a strong swimmer, said she had seen Mr Pentony gripping his body board and looking exhausted about 30 metres from the shore.

She managed to attract attention from other family members on the shore who raised the alarm and swam towards him but was pushed back when a large wave crashed dragging them under water.

“The large wave separated us so we were either side of the wave,” she said choking back tears.

“I just ... and I had to make a call.”

She said she felt physically sick when she eventually reached the shore.

“I could tell swimming against it (the current) was really difficult but I did not notice it carrying me at the time,” Ms Herron added.

“I have some badges from school but I would not be a strong swimmer.”

The court heard how, despite being unable to swim, Mr Pentony had been body-boarding about half a dozen times previously.

His girlfriend Caroline Herron said the water had been “reasonably calm” when they first entered the water.

Ms Herron said: “It seemed to be reasonably calm when we first went in.

“There seemed to be a lot more waves after.”

The inquest also heard that an inshore lifeboat crew recovered Mr Pentony from the water 50 to 75 metres from the shore face down and unresponsive.

He was not wearing a buoyancy aid and he had been separated from his board which was later washed up on the shore.

Despite extensive resuscitation efforts by lifeboat crews and paramedics he never recovered.

RNLI member Peter Walton said the stretch of water where the tragedy occurred was popular with surfers and that the conditions could change rapidly.

Mr Walton said: “Over the years, we would have been to quite a few where people have been in difficulty.

“That would be the preferred end of the Strand for them to go to because of the bigger waves.”

The court was told that a woman surfer, who claimed to have been an off-duty lifeguard, also helped in the rescue but police were unable to trace her.

In her findings, Coroner Suzanne Anderson said the cause of death was drowning.

Ms Anderson said: “Death was due to drowning.

“I would also like to extend my very deepest sympathies to the Pentony family and also to Caroline and the Herron family.”

Afterwards, his brother, Jamie Pentony, said he hoped others would learn from the tragedy.

“We heard today that it was a tragic accident,” he said.

“I hope other people learn from it.

“We hope that no other family has to go through what we have been through.

“Stephen was a great fella and had his whole life ahead of him.

“We all miss him.”

The Pentony family have also raised funds to support the work of the RNLI.