Dad and daughter both swept to their deaths by ‘savage’ wave striking harbour wall


A dad and his daughter drowned after being swept out to sea from a harbour wall by a huge wave.

The pair, said to have been in ‘really good places and so happy’ had thought they would be safe by the harbour from which they were dragged by the surge of water, an inquest heard.

A coroner said the outcome of the “devastating tragedy” that took the lives of Matthew Smith, 47, and 26-year-old Bonnie Smith couldn’t have been avoided.

Cornwall Coroner’s Court heard on Monday how the Smith family – Matthew, Bonnie and her brothers Mitchell and Oliver – drove from the Bristol and Gloucester area to Mullion, South Cornwall, for a short family break.

Matthew and Bonnie had visited before and they arrived at his “favourite place in the world” at Mullion Cove as it was getting dark, Cornwall Live reports.

The sea was described as savage and compared to boiling water by witnesses.

Matthew Smith, 47, and 26-year-old Bonnie Smith
Matthew Smith, 47, and 26-year-old Bonnie Smith

Coroner Andrew Cox said: “Anyone who knows the Mullion area will know that for waves to break over the harbour wall there must be a substantial sea running.”

The court heard how after they arrived at the harbour, Matthew and Bonnie walked ahead with her dog Tiya while Oliver and Mitchell stayed back to have a cigarette near to the café.

Mitchell said visibility was poor on the harbour and they could see 30 feet in front of them if not less.

He also said the harbour wall was slippery and the sea was “savage”.

He said: “As we were on the harbour I told Oliver to watch out as it was quite slippery, I remember my dad laughing about it.

“My dad is a very big and strong person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him break a sweat. People often say when you’re with him you feel invincible. He’s a force to be reckoned with. I think this may be why they didn’t turn back.”

The emergency services at the scene
Officers said it was ‘feasible’ the family thought they would be safe by the harbour

He said he lost sight of his dad and sister as they went farther ahead, one of Matthew’s arms around his daughter and the other holding the dog lead.

After the brothers finished their cigarettes they said they saw Bonnie’s dog rush out of the water, “tangled in the lead” with her choke collar “as tight as it could be”.

That’s when they first realised Matthew and Bonnie were in the water, having been swept from the harbour wall by a large wave.

Mr Cox said: “Once they were in the water I think the prospect of any recovery being effective were remote.”

Detective Constable Browning told the hearing at Truro – but attended by phone – it’s “perfectly feasible” the family thought they would be protected by the harbour.

The scene at Mullion Cove harbour wall, Helston, Cornwall
Emergency services rushed to the scene at Mullion Cove harbour wall, Helston, Cornwall

She said: “It’s a simple case of naivety and not ignorance. To be ignorant of something you must be aware of the risk and I don’t believe when Bonnie and Matthew walked along the harbour wall they were fully aware of the power of the waves coming over the harbour wall.”

A large scale sea rescue mission was launched by the coastguard and RNLI. The coastguard helicopter was also scrambled despite the heavy winds.

One witness praised the winchman from the helicopter who retrieved the casualties from the water.

Despite the best efforts to save them, Matthew was pronounced dead following his rescue and Bonnie later died in hospital.

Mr Cox said: “I want to pause and offer my thanks to the professional and volunteer rescuers who took up and did the very best they could do for Matthew and Bonnie.

“It’s as already been noted, simply a tragedy, that the outcome couldn’t be avoided.

“What’s happened is that Matthew and Bonnie have gone out onto the harbour wall thinking they were protected and safe and I’m afraid the sea got the better of them.

“It’s a simple tragedy, devastating tragedy, and I am just so sorry for the family and the loss they have suffered. I am going to record a conclusion in respect of both deaths from an accident.”

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