What was intended to be a lovely day at the beach turned into a tragic nightmare for one family who lost their father to a drowning episode. Jonathan “Joff” Stevens from Telford is now being hailed a hero after he lost his life to save two of his children who were caught in a deadly rip current at Barmouth Beach in North Wales.
With a torrential heatwave rolling across the United Kingdom, Jonathan, a father of seven, had driven 80 miles from his home to Barmouth Beach along with his four younger children on Aug. 2.
Lauren, 11, was sitting on the beach looking after her 4-year-old brother, Joshua, when she saw her two older siblings in danger. She told The Sun that her older sister Lacey, 12, and brother Jack, 10, were trying out a new bodyboard when they were “swept out about 100m in just a few seconds” by a rip current.
“They’re both good swimmers,” Lauren explained, “but it kept pulling them under the water. Jack especially was really struggling and at one point he went under for about 10 seconds.”
Jonathan took off his shirt and trousers as soon as he heard Lacey scream and immediately dived in to rescue them.
While Jonathan was able to reach Lacey and help pull her out of the overpowering current, he had to go much further out to catch up with Jack, who was clinging to the bodyboard for life.
“He got hold of [Jack] and shoved him out of the current too, but I think it took all his strength because next thing dad disappeared under the water,” Lauren recalled.
Witnessing the harrowing moment right in front of her eyes, the distraught daughter ran to alert lifeguards, telling them her father was at risk.
“They ran into the water too and swam out to dad but by the time they got to him his head was just bobbing up and down in the water,” Lauren said. “He looked lifeless.”
Although it seemed as though that was the last moment of Jonathan’s, he somehow managed to muster up enough energy to say goodbye to his children one last time. Lauren said that after being pulled to shallow water, “Dad opened his eyes and looked over to me, Joshua, and Lacey and Jack, who by now were back with us and he gave us a smile.”
A grieving Lauren added that she believed that “when he saw we were all okay he knew he could let go and die happily.”
A Coast Guard spokesman said, according to Shropshire Star, that a lifeboat and fixed-wing aircraft were sent to help those stuck in the water. A statement from the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called at 1.39pm to reports of persons caught in a rip tide at Barmouth beach.”
Lifeguards then attempted CPR, and an air ambulance took the heroic father to the hospital, but it was too late.
As the tragedy ensued, 34-year-old Laura Burford, Jonathan’s partner and mom of the children, had texted him to find out how their day was going. However, what she received was a response from Lauren, telling her about the near-drowning of two of her siblings, and that left her devastated.
“If Joff hadn’t done what he did I’d be sitting here planning funerals for two of my kids now,” she told The Sun. “It doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s literally given them his last breath.”
In the wake of the tragedy, a family friend, Mel Plowman organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the children in honor of their dad’s ultimate sacrifice. Plowman explained that “[t]he funds raised will go towards any funeral costs, to each of his 7 children to support and to have a memory gift from their Hero Father and to Laura to help along the way with any costs that may occur.”
The campaign has nearly reached its 14,000 pound (US$18,419) goal, although this won’t diminish the loss the family is experiencing. As partner Laura said to The Sun, “[t]hese kids meant the world to Joff and I owe him everything for saving them.”
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