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Rip currents dragged parents to their death off the Algarve coast

By Emily Dugan

Friends of three Britons who drowned after being caught in rip currents off a Portuguese beach have spoken of their devastation.

Bob and Debbie Fry died trying to rescue their two children off Praia do Tonel, near Sagres. Their friend Barbara Jean Dinsmore, who went into the sea after them, also drowned.

Mr and Mrs Fry waded into the sea on Monday afternoon to try to save George, 9, and Rosie, 11, after they were swept up by a wave while playing with five other children.

Mr Fry, a 52-year-old architect, and his wife, Debbie, 48, were dragged out to sea by powerful currents as they rushed to their children's aid. Mrs Dinsmore saw them being pulled away, and dived into the water to try to save them. But she was also carried away by the strong current.

All of the children who were caught up by the waves survived. However, three were said to have suffered minor injuries as they were thrown back on to the shore.

The Fry family and the Dinsmores, both from Wootton Bassett, near Swindon in Wiltshire, were on a half-term holiday with their children at the Algarve resort in the extreme south-west corner of Portugal. It was a sunny day so the group decided to spend it at Tonel beach, a popular Atlantic spot for surfers because of its powerful waves.

A neighbour of the Fry family in Wootton Bassett, Fiona Shaw, who had been looking after their cat and goldfish while they were away, said the news was "devastating".

Ms Shaw described Mr and Mrs Fry as "two of the friendliest people" in the community.

"Bob and Deb were just a hard-working couple who did the best for their children", she said. "They were great. Bob was just a big smile, always friendly and willing to have a chat."

A German holidaymaker, who had also gone to the rescue of his child, made it back to the beach with his son but died of a heart attack soon after. He has not been named.

A further three adults were treated in hospital. One of them, Dean Plumb, who was also on holiday with the families, was still in hospital yesterday.

Mr Fry's sister, Lesley, flew to the Algarve yesterday morning to take care of the children, who were being comforted by counsellors. Mrs Dinsmore's husband, Roy, and their two children, Alex, 9, and Lydia, 11, were being helped by the British consul.

The beach was closed to swimmers for the winter season, as strong rip currents generated by larger waves make the waters dangerous. The local maritime police said the families had ignored signs warning swimmers that no lifeguards were on duty.

Surfers said yesterday that rip currents – surface flows returning seaward from the beach – made the beach wholly unsuitable for swimming at this time of year.

Chris Thomson, a professional surfer who organises surf trips to Portugal with his Errant surf travel company, said Tonel beach was "extremely exposed", and only suitable for experienced surfers.

"We would only take experienced surfers there and any beach that's good for surfing is going to be dangerous for swimming," he said. " Tonel is a lot more dangerous than most British beaches.

"This time of year is prime surf season, so the waves are quite big. But it doesn't need to be big to be dangerous: when you've got surfing waves you'll get rip currents. People get stuck in a rip and then make the mistake of swimming against it to try and get back to the beach. It's basically like swimming in a treadmill. And that's probably what happened – it can be lethal if you don't know what you're doing."

Pedro Pereira, the commander of the maritime police for the region, said the beaches had been closed for winter, but that full emergency teams had been dispatched to the scene as soon as they heard the news. He added: "For the families in mourning I wish to stress my sorrow and compassion."

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