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13 April 2011, 17:31
The death of a father who tried to rescue his two dogs from near freezing sea water was an accident, a coroner ruled on Tuesday
Heating and plumbing engineer Kevin Reynolds, 52, waded into strong waves with his 13-year-old daughter Grace after their two Jack Russells went into the sea.
Witnesses saw Mr Reynolds as he attempted to pluck the animals out of the water near Brighton Pier on January 8.
He managed to retrieve one of the dogs and pass it to his daughter who held on to a groyne and returned it to dry land before going back into the sea.
A passer-by, Mark Briscoe, saw the unfolding drama and risked his life to rescue Grace who the coroner said would have suffered the same fate as her father without his aid.
The inquest at Brighton County Court heard that minutes later Mr Reynolds was dragged out to sea by a strong rip tide and submerged by waves up to three metres high.
Witness Zena Clare told how one wave washed over his head before he emerged face down in temperatures of 3C to 4C.
A lifeboat crew braved the perilous conditions and eventually located Mr Reynolds east of the pier.
Mr Reynolds, from Queen's Park Road, Brighton, was airlifted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton where he was declared dead from drowning.
Ms Clare told the inquest: ``They were struggling because the sea was knocking them around but initially it wasn't an emergency.
``It didn't look out of control. They were trying to correct themselves as the waves came at them.''
Ms Clare saw one of the dogs upside down with its legs in the air as it drifted in the sea water.
``I got down to about 15ft from the water's edge and saw the man and the teenager in the sea up to their waist. Then I saw the man passing the girl a dog and realised that two dogs were in the sea.
``She then made her way out of the water, using the groyne to steady herself with the dog in her arms. The young girl then ran back into the sea. Mr Reynolds was still in the water.
``He was drifting further out into the sea. My opinion was that he was caught in the rip. The waves were huge so it would have been very difficult even with a floatation aid.''
Ms Clare believed the length of time it took the lifeboat crew to reach the scene was too long, and could not see any floatation aids nearby.
``I was very upset that it took a long time for the lifeboat to arrive,'' she said. ``I remember myself and other people saying, 'Where is it? Where is it coming from?'.''
Mark Bell, who was the helmsman of the RNLI boat, denied the claim, saying the crew responded quickly.
The inquest heard that he was paged at 12.16pm and Mr Reynolds was pulled out of the water fully clothed at 12.57pm. Sussex Police received a 999 call just a minute earlier at 12.15pm.