Coroner Pays Tribute To 'Brave' Rescuer

A coroner's hailed an "extraordinarily brave'' man who drowned saving a young girl who was being swept out to sea in West Sussex.

Bulgarian Plamen Petkov, 32, gave no thought to his own safety as he leapt into the water to rescue five-year-old Darleen Myint.

The youngster was being carried out to sea by the onshore wind and current in the water at West Wittering on May 26.

The electrician immediately ran into the cold water after the child's mother shouted ''my baby, my baby'' who was in an inflatable ring in an area of the beach where swimming and inflatables were banned due to dangerous currents.

An inquest heard how he hoisted the girl on to his shoulders before getting into difficulty and becoming partially submerged.

West Sussex Assistant Deputy Coroner Joe Turner said Mr Petkov's actions were ''extraordinarily brave'' as he became overcome with exhaustion and was tragically swept away.

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The youngster's mother, San Thidar Myint, called him a ''brave and honourable man'' who had not hesitated to help.

Mr Petkov's friend, Stefan Mayorov, said the pair had driven down from London and it was a sunny but windy day. They had eaten and had a beer when they decided to walk along the shore and the drama unfolded.

''We saw that the young girl was drifting away from the woman and the woman said could we go and get her back,'' he told the hearing in Chichester.

''Plamen had started to walk out until it got too deep and he started swimming.

''The boat (inflatable ring) was now drifting away quickly and was 50 metres away and I believed things had got serious.

''I shouted for help and ran out into the sea and started swimming.''

Mr Mayorov then swam out to his friend and during that time the girl had left the rubber ring.

''Plamen had the girl on his back and the child had her hands on his head.

''Plamen was not moving. I started talking to him and said to him in my language 'Pass me the girl'. His head was under the water and there was no reaction. I took hold of the girl and as I was turning back a lady took hold of the girl.''

Mr Mayorov then turned his friend over and he said he was frothing at the mouth.

He managed to push Mr Petkov, of Westmoreland Drive, Sutton, Surrey, to the shore and help arrived but it was not able to save him.

Mr Mayorov said he was aware that it was forbidden to swim in that area of the beach because there were signs.

Mrs Myint, from Sutton in Surrey, told the hearing she and her family had come down for her husband's birthday and went to the beach but she noticed no signs about not swimming as she was concentrating on her children.

She said her daughter was paddling in shallow water in an area with other families doing the same when she started drifting out and she could not swim.

''She was just out of my reach and she started drifting further away. She thought it was funny and she was smiling but I could not reach her and the water was getting deeper and deeper and it was up to my neck. I was panicking and I called for help.''

She said the situation had become serious in a few minutes as the wind blew the ring farther out and she saw Mr Petkov go into the water.

''I'm so grateful he (Mr Petkov) helped with the situation,'' said Mrs San, who is originally from Burma.

''He got hold of her and he was holding her head and I was not worried. He was fit and healthy but then he slipped and he asked for help.''

It was only when her daughter was taken by the woman and Mr Petkov was also rescued that Mrs San realised her daughter's saviour was also in trouble.

Crying, she told the inquest: ''I did not have a chance to say thank you to him.

''He was a brave and honourable man. He didn't think twice when I asked for help. He swam quickly and as soon as he got my daughter, he got weight and the current was too strong.

''He was holding her and she was holding him back. If he had thought twice my daughter would have been far, far away and I would have lost her forever. He saved my daughter.''

The woman who grabbed the child from Mr Petkov, Nicky Howkins, said the dead man had seemed to struggle with the current as he rescued the girl.

She said the incident happened in the ''dangerous part'' of the beach but there were people in the water.

She said she was a good swimmer but the current took her by surprise.

Mr Turner said: ''Without any thought for his own safety Plamen Petkov was the first in the water. He managed to save the girl but by this time he was in grave difficulties.

''It is to his eternal credit he was able to save a girl adrift in a rubber ring.''

The coroner also praised all those who tried to help that day.