Tears flow as rescuers fail to find Dylan Cecil in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset
The devastated family of a four-year-boy who went missing in the sea off Somerset while on holiday have described him as a “bubbly, lovely” child.
Dylan Cecil’s parents frantically tried to rescue him after he slipped off a jetty into the water in Burnham-on-Sea – but were unable to reach him.
The youngster had wanted to get a closer look at the sea and went onto the jetty with his parents, Rachel McCollum and Darren Cecil, and his two younger sisters, aged one and three, at about 6pm on Sunday night.
The family, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, were visiting Ms McCollum’s parents who live locally, and who said they could not have wished for a better grandson. Following Dylan’s parents’ desperate efforts to save their son, the couple had to be pulled from the water by passers-by and treated for water ingestion.
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The water off the jetty is impossible to see through because of the mud flats and the strong spring tide currents would have made it very difficult to swim back to shore, the coastguard said.
Dylan’s close family spent the day at the scene, anxiously waiting for news. But after searching late into Sunday night, the coastguard confirmed yesterday morning that the search for Dylan, who was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, had become a body recovery operation.
Superintendent Keith McCoubrey, of Avon and Somerset Police, said the family had been left “traumatised” by the “tragic” incident. He added: “There’s not much one can say in such tragic circumstances apart from the fact that our sympathies are with the family at this time. They have been devastated by what has happened, traumatised by the whole incident and have asked that the media respect their privacy at this difficult time.”
The search was called off at 4.30pm yesterday, the coastguard said.
Earlier yesterday Superintendent McCoubrey had urged some well-wishers – who had organised a search for missing Dylan on Facebook – not to help look for the youngster. He called on those who had said they would attend the search party to think again – because of the area’s treacherous mudflats.
Tris Newey, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “At the moment we have tides which are the highest on the spring cycle. The tide that runs around the jetty is also quite high and about four or five knots. It would have been impossible to see the edge of the jetty and the water around it was quite deep. Combined with a fast flowing tide, it almost makes it impossible when someone falls in.”
The waters off Burnham-on-Sea have the second highest tidal rise and fall in the world and the shoreline is notorious for its dangerous mudflats.
A five-year-old girl died on the beach in similar circumstances in 2002 when she became trapped in the mud and swamped by the incoming tide. Lelaina Hall, from Worcester, had been on a family trip to the seaside. She ventured into the water and got into difficulties.
Her mother, Caroline Hall, and stepfather Laurence Boyle rushed after Lelaina but it was too late to save her. The girl’s body was discovered by rescue crews shortly later.
The rescue operation to trace Dylan continued throughout the night and resumed at first light yesterday as Dylan’s family watched from the seafront. Dylan had been visiting his grandmother, Jackie McCollum, 47, who lives in a holiday flat in nearby Brean, Somerset, with sisters Faith, aged three, and toddler Alice.
Dylan’s parents are believed to have arrived back at her home on Sunday after a short break in Weymouth, Dorset, to watch their home football team, Kettering Town FC, play Weymouth FC.
Mark Newman, a member of the Burnham Area Rescue Boat, was one of the first on the scene and witnessed the family’s desperate search.
He said: “I happened to be coming down by the beach within minutes of the incident. It was a really sad and frantic sight. The parents of the boy were both there – they had just been pulled out of the water after jumping in to save their son.
“There was a mixture of shock and raw emotion. Mum and dad had ingested a lot of sea water but they didn’t go to hospital. Quite clearly they were upset and didn’t want to leave their son. They were checked over by paramedics as lifeboats began searching the water. My heart goes out to the family of the boy.”
Rachel maintained a close watch on the rescue operation yesterday. One woman, seen anxiously gazing over the swirling sea, collapsed yesterday morning and had to be helped up by police officers. Another angry family member knocked over a photographer at the seafront cordon.
Two RNLI rescue boats, filled with volunteers, were patrolling the choppy waters yesterday morning while a helicopter hovered overhead.
Tris Newey said yesterday morning: “For the foreseeable future we will keep looking. The water can be quite hazardous and we are at spring tides at the moment. The tide is running quite fast across the jetty. It is quite dangerous here. We were told that he had fallen off the slipway into the water well out of his depth. We arrived 20 minutes later. We assisted the parents and started to search from that point. It does become a little more difficult with the number of hours that have passed. But we maintain hope and we will keep looking until all uncertainty has passed.”
The tide at Burnham rises and falls by up to 15 metres (49 ft) – second only to the Bay of Fundy in Eastern Canada – and recedes by over 1.5 miles.
Swansea coastguard were alerted at 6.04pm on Sunday when an onlooker spotted the parents flailing in the water after jumping in to try to save their boy. He fell into the water two and a half hours after low tide at 3.35pm when the water was surging back up the Bristol Channel. It is feared Dylan was swept away by the spring tide, which can reach speeds of up to four knots and is said to be strong enough to sweep adults off their feet.
Emergency services immediately began a full-scale operation and at the height of the search five coastguard teams, six inshore lifeboats and three search and rescue aircraft were scouring the area.
Dave Hughes of Swansea Coastguard said: “We took several 999 calls at 6.04pm when the boy went into the water and he didn’t emerge.
“We believe the parents were frantically looking for the child in the water, as you would as a parent. We immediately tasked local coastguards from Burnham, inshore RNLI lifeboat and Portland rescue helicopter 106. The area is saturated with our search and rescue assets. It’s a very very muddy area with a lot of mudflats and we have had fatalities over the years. The thoughts are that the child has possibly got trapped in the mud straight away or, with an undercurrent, got swept up the channel.
“When the tide does ebb and flow there it’s very very fast and powerful. It can sweep an adult off his feet. It’s a very, very dangerous area.”
He said a scaled down operation had continued through the night, with teams from Burnham-on-Sea working into the early hours. Crews from Clevedon, Portishead, Watchet and two lifeboats from the RNLI joined the search just before 5am, when first light broke over the seaside town.
A spokeswoman for Avon and Somerset Police said: “Police officers supported the coastguard through the night in the effort to locate the four year old. Officers were called to the esplanade at around 6pm yesterday following reports the boy’s parents had been pulled from the water.”
Residents from Burnham-on-Sea who arrived at the sea front to offer their help were held back by police tape, which cordoned off the jetty.
Reverend Graham Witts, vicar of St Andrews, the local church, said he had arrived as soon as he heard that the boy was missing.
He said: “I have come here to see if I can offer any help to the family, or anyone who might need it. The family are being supported by police liaison officers.
“I have been here for nine years and we have had nothing like this before. It is very worrying. The community here are shocked.”