Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Father's battle to rescue daughter

Alistair Cousins leaves the inquest into his daughter's death

A heartbroken father has told how he battled to save his young daughter from drowning in the sea off the north coast.

Alistair Cousins wept as he described the moments the little girl disappeared when she was caught up in a rip tide at Portballintrae, Co Antrim.

He told a Belfast inquest: "It was pure panic. I did not even have a plan. It was just get her out. There was no thinking about 'A, B or C' or that I will grab her and get to the rocks, it was just get her out. Once we got in there the current took us out. The Coastguard said it was a rip tide."

Despite the frantic rescue efforts, Bethany Cousins, 11, from Glenwood Park in Lurgan, Co Armagh, died several hours later at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine. She had been body boarding at Runkerry Beach with her younger brother on the first day of their summer holiday on July 15 last year.

Mr Cousins, a father-of-three, had been watching from the shore when he saw Bethany had got into difficulty. He told the court he jumped into the icy Atlantic water without hesitation and struggled against breaking waves and a strong undercurrent to rescue his only daughter. After being battered by a third wave he momentarily lost his grip on the little girl. Seconds later, when he pulled her to the surface, Bethany was unresponsive.

He said: "I felt that I could not go on - I was completely shattered - but something inside me said keep going. I was for giving up but when I was under the water I seen a hand, grabbed her hand and made my way to the surface. The wave tumbled us. When we came up her head was down and I said 'don't you even think about it'. I have no idea how I got out of that current."

Deputy State pathologist Dr Alistair Bentley determined the cause of death as features consistent with drowning. Although Bethany was only under water for a short time it is thought she inhaled a rush of cold water which triggered a cardiac arrest.

Danger signs have since been erected at Runkerry beach. However, Senior Coroner John Leckey, who described the evidence given in court as very moving, said more must be done.

He said: "I hope that no one else will suffer the same tragedy. Questions remain about whether the signage that has been put up since is fit for purpose."

The Coroner is to write to Moyle District Council which has responsibility for Runkerry Beach and the relevant government minister asking for urgent action to be taken to address the issue of signage on all beaches on the north coast. He added: "People pay much more attention if they see a red flag."

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