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Kevin Reynolds died trying to save his two pet dogs who had been swept out to sea.
The Jack Russells jumped off a groyne near the Brighton Pier yesterday lunchtime. Mr Reynolds waded in after them followed by his 13-year-old daughter.
Mr Reynolds, 52, from Queens Park Road, was rescued by the Brighton Inshore Lifeboat but died later in hospital. Police say his daughter was unhurt but traumatised by what had happened.
A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman said Mr Reynolds could have hit his head on a groyne.
His daughter and several passers-by waded into the water to help him but Mr Reynolds was washed out more than 30 metres towards the pier in sea temperatures of 5C.
After several unsuccessful attempts, the Brighton Inshore lifeboat finally managed to pull Mr Reynolds out of the water.
Helmsman Mark Bell said: "It was the roughest conditions I've seen in a long time and on scene was a very inhospitable place to be, close in shore, with heavy breaking surf, and made all the worse by the terribly sad events that led to us being called."
Colin Griffiths, duty watch manager at Solent Coastguard, said: "This is a tragic story for the family.
"Dogs will generally eventually return to their owners after a swim and it is certainly not worth the risk, paid as a heavy price today, for individuals to go into seas of temperatures generally at about four to five degrees Celsius this time of year.
"Hypothermia and cold shock will set in very, very quickly and survivability is slim.''
Sussex Police said at least two members of the public helped pull the girl to safety and tried to save Mr Reynolds.
Chief Inspector Helen West added: "This is a truly tragic event and my sympathies go to the family. Members of the public bravely entered the sea to try to rescue the father and daughter.
"The man was difficult to reach and eventually pulled from the water by the lifeboat.''
One of the dogs has been found. The other is missing.