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What is a riptide? Meaning of the term explained and what was said in the Bournemouth deaths inquest

An inquest has heard that two youngsters died from drowning after a “suggestion” that they got into difficulty by getting caught in a riptide in the sea off Bournemouth beach.

Joe Abbess, 17, from Southampton, and Sunnah Khan, 12, from Buckinghamshire, were rescued from the sea during the incident on Wednesday 31 May, but both died in hospital.

In an inquest hearing at Bournemouth town hall, Dorset coroner’s officer Nicola Muller said that post-mortem examinations carried out by Home Office pathologist Basil Purdue showed the cause of their deaths was drowning.

Ms Muller said that Joe, a trainee chef, was taken to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he was pronounced dead, and Sunnah was taken to Poole General Hospital.

What is a riptide?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a riptide as “a dangerous area of strongly moving water in the sea, where two or more currents meet”.

Despite the name, riptides are actually nothing to do with the tide, which is why the term “rip current” is also used.

According to Britannica: “Rip currents may have velocities as great as one metre per second (3.3 feet per second, or two knots) and extend offshore from 60 to 760 metres (200 to 2,500 feet). The energies of the currents may be sufficient to erode shallow channels through offshore bars, and the water may be discoloured by suspended sand.

“Rip currents form at long coasts that are approached by wave trains oriented parallel or nearly parallel to the shoreline. In shallow water the orbital motion in normal waves and swell displaces the water particles small distances shoreward with each passing wave.”

Riptides do not pull people under the water. They carry floating objects, including people, out to just beyond the zone of the breaking waves, at which point the current dissipates and releases everything it is carrying.

The advice for swimmers caught in a riptide is to not attempt to swim towards the shore, directly against the current. Instead, it is best to swim a short distance parallel to the beach to emerge from the rip current before returning to shore.

What happened in Bournemouth?

Describing the incident, Ms Muller said: “The brief circumstances are that emergency services were contacted by members of the public following swimmers had come into difficulty in the water, following suggestion they had been caught in a riptide.”

Dorset Police have said that the beach was extremely busy but that neither of the deceased young people or anyone else pulled from the sea at the time of the incident was involved in any collision or contact with any vessel in the water.

A man in his forties, who was “on the water” at the time, was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, and was released under investigation on Thursday.

The Dorset Belle sightseeing boat was impounded by Dorset Police after the incident.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Corrigan said: “We continue to keep an open mind around the circumstances that have led to the tragic death of two young people in the water off the beach.

“Our thoughts remain with the families of those young people.

“As with any investigation of this nature, we have to look at all factors connected to the state of the water.

“One of those lines of inquiry has involved the pleasure boat, which was in the area at the time of the incident. These inquiries also include examining wind, other weather and general coastal conditions at the time.

“We are working with experts from partner agencies to understand all of the factors and this will take time to establish.”

All boat operations have been suspended off Bournemouth Pier following last week’s incident.

In a statement, Joe Abbess’s family said: “We are heartbroken and devastated at the death of our Joe. He was a wonderful son and brother who is sadly missed.

“His family and friends will always love him and we are incredibly proud of the fabulous young man he was. He was kind and generous, loving and caring, hardworking and funny.

“Joe was a talented trainee chef, with a bright future ahead of him.

“We were privileged to have him in our lives for 17 years and we are so sorry he will never fulfil his dreams and ambitions.

“He was enjoying a day at the beach on Wednesday and we would like to thank his friends and all the emergency services who helped him, when this tragedy unfolded.”

A spokesperson for Bourne End Academy said: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm that one of our students, Sunnah Khan, died during the half-term break.

“As a student, Sunnah grew in confidence over her first 10 months at Bourne End. She developed a bold and happy personality which resonated throughout the school community.

“Her energetic character and fierce sense of loyalty meant that she had built strong and positive relationships with her peers and teachers. She will be enormously missed.”

“Our deepest condolences are with the family and their friends during this difficult time and in due course we will share details of a fitting memorial for Sunnah.”

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