'Concerned' pilot thought firefighter's Channel swim would be stopped half an hour before he drowned

Iain Hughes, pictured at Cliff Lakes
-Credit: (Image: Instagram: @hughesyswims)

A support boat pilot had concerns about a firefighter's charity swim across the English Channel half an hour before he tragically drowned. Iain Hughes lost his life during the charity event last year after setting off from Dover.

The coroner has now highlighted worries regarding the management of such swims and the communication involved when deciding to stop a swimmer who is struggling or slowing down. The pilot escorting 42-year-old father-of-two Iain Hughes was "concerned about progress" shortly before Mr Hughes went missing, believing the swim would likely be stopped.

However, Black Country senior coroner Zafar Siddique noted that it was "not clear how this was communicated to the family and no action was taken to abort the swim". He pointed out there was "confusion" over the criteria for halting swims and recommended that the protocols for future events should be reassessed.

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Additionally, the pre-swim safety briefing was described as "fragmented" by an attendee. They mentioned not remembering any talk of safety checks for Iain, signs of danger to watch for, or at what point the swim would be called off, according to the coroner's report, reports Birmingham Live.

Mr Siddique has issued a prevention of future deaths report to the Channel Swimming Pilot Federation, expressing his concern based on the evidence presented during the inquest.

"In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances, it is my statutory duty to report to you."

"During the course of the inquest, I heard evidence from the pilot (redacted). He confirmed at around 30 minutes before Mr Hughes became submerged, that he was concerned about progress and that it was likely the swim would be aborted. "It is not clear how this was communicated to the family and no action was taken to abort the swim. My concern is that this lack of clarity of who and when should make the decision to abort a swim can result in unnecessary delay and increased risk.

"I am told by the CSPF (Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation) that they have clear guidance and protocols in place and have been provided with several documents to support this. There is always an element of risk by the very nature of the Channel crossing challenge."

"However, given this incident and confusion about when a swim should be aborted, you may wish to review the situation further and how this is communicated to all those involved."

Mr Hughes, from Wednesbury Fire Station, started off swimming strongly in June last year and appeared set for a record pace.

However, his progress decreased over time. Approximately 11 and a half hours into the challenge, he disappeared beneath the water's surface.

A vast search operation was launched, and Mr Hughes' body was eventually found in Belgian waters two weeks later on July 4.

At an inquest held in February, Mr Siddique concluded that the firefighter's death was due to misadventure.

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