Mathew and Bonnie Smith inquest over Mullion Harbour deaths in Cornwall
RESCUERS and volunteers have been praised for their bravery at an inquest into the deaths of a father and daughter who were swept into the sea and drowned at Mullion Harbour last year. The praise came during the inquests into the deaths of Matthew Smith, aged 47, and 26-year-old Bonnie Smith, who were both washed from the harbour wall by a giant wave during the early evening of Monday, November 2. They were airlifted to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro by the coastguard helicopter, following a major rescue attempt involving coastguards and two lifeboats, but were sadly confirmed to have died later that evening.
The cause of death was drowning. The inquest was told that Mr Smith and Miss Smith, both BT employees, had only just arrived in Mullion that day, on holiday from Abbeydale in Gloucester, along with Mr Smith’s two grown up sons Mitchel and Oliver. Read next:
Father and daughter who died after being washed into sea at Mullion are named Witnesses described the sea that night variously as ‘wild’, ‘savage’ and ‘boiling’ but it was suggested that the pair may not have realised that as they had only just arrived and visibility was so bad you could not see the state of the sea outside the harbour wall. Brother Mitchel told the inquest that when they arrived Matthew and Bonnie were desperate to get down to the sea as they had been many times and it was their favourite place in the world.
The brothers had not been before. He said they went down to the harbour and as they got a quarter of the way along the wall a massive wave broke over the harbour wall and it scared them. So they decided to go back up to the cafe for a smoke, while Bonnie and Matthew went ahead onto the harbour wall with their pet dog Taya on a lead.
The last sight they had of the pair was Matthew with one arm around Bonnie and the other holding the dog on the lead. Bonnie was on the side nearest the sea. After five minutes of having their cigarettes they saw Taya coming out of the water onto the beach.
The two brothers realised immediately that Matthew and Bonnie must have gone into the water. Both their mobiles were dead so they ran back to the cafe to call the emergency services. They didn’t see the red phone in the harbour.
The emergency services were called and the pair were eventually pulled from the sea. “Dad and Bonnie were really close,” said Mitchell. “I believe Bonnie may have been swept over by a wave and dad has gone after her, although I didn’t witness this. I know my dad would do anything for her.
I’m so proud of him for that.” Mullion Harbour during Storm Eleanor in 2018 when a man and his dog were also swept into the sea by a wave.
Both of them survived. Picture SWNS In a statement, eyewitness and former coastguard Christopher Mundy said he was at home with his wife at 7pm when he became aware of a lot of activity down at the harbour.
He had taken the dogs out earlier at 5pm and was met by local woman Wendy Williams. “We stood about two to three hundred metres from the water which I can only describe as ‘boiling’,” he said in a statement. “The sea was very savage and while we stood talking about it a wave broke over west quay. Knowing the sea as I knew it, I knew it would get worse in the next hour and a half.” Local fisherman Jonathan Pascoe said at 7pm he was in the lounge when saw a coastguard truck at the top of the slipway so he went out to see if he could help.
He saw a neighbour Michael Cocking with a torch scanning the harbour. He told him two people had gone into the water. “I ran over to my boat and got my searchlight,” he said in a statement. “It was a tricky time of the day with the light fading.
It was cold and wet. The wind gusting near to gale force at times. Michael and I stood on the western breakwater and scanned the harbour with our lights we couldn’t get any closer because the water in the harbour was so violent.”
He said spray was reducing visibility and big sets of waves were breaking over west pier every few minutes. The helicopter flew over and hovered over Torchlight Beach with search lights lighting up the whole area while the Lizard and Penlee lifeboats also searched the scene. “I must praise the bravery of the helicopter winch man who went down to the water and was swamped by waves several times,” he said. “I watched as at first one casualty and then after ten minutes another were winched into the helicopter.
It didn’t look good.” Martin Leslie coastal operations area commander based in Falmouth told the inquest they received their first call at 6.40pm with multiple 999 calls. Both lifeboats were sent, Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 924, Mullion Coastguard Rescue team and South West Ambulance Service personnel were all sent to the scene.
Porthleven rescue team was also tasked to help. The two victims were spotted 100 metres from the harbour entrance in heavy swell. The helicopter winched them both aboard.
“The sea conditions were extremely rough,” he said. “With very strong to gale force westerly winds with large waves and swell breaking over the harbour walls.” He added: “This was a very difficult and fast moving situation for all involved. The search and rescue operation was carried out effectively in very difficult conditions by all rescuers.”
Summing up the inquest, coroner Andrew Cox said it was a tragic accident and praised the efforts of the rescuers. “I completely understand why anyone would want to get down to the sea straight away,” he said. “They came down to get their first breath of fresh air. Michael and Bonnie walked out along one of the harbour walls and what has happened is that a substantial wave has come up and over the wall and has simply swept them into the water.
Once in the water the prospects of any recovery were remote. “I want to offer my thanks to the professional and volunteer rescuers who turned up and did the very best that they could for Michael and Bonnie. It is simply a tragic outcome that couldn’t have been avoided.
“What has happened is that Matthew and Bonnie have gone out on the harbour wall thinking they were protected behind the harbour wall and they were safe and I’m afraid the sea has got the better of them.
It is a simple tragedy, a devastating tragedy.”
He recorded a verdict of accidental death for both Matthew and Bonnie.
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