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‘Builder, 51, who couldn’t swim drowned after falling off paddle board into sea’

A general view of Lepe Beach in the New Forest, Hampshire (PA)
A general view of Lepe Beach in the New Forest, Hampshire (PA)

A 51-year-old man who could not swim died after he fell off his paddle board the first time he used it while half a mile out at sea, an inquest heard.

Builder Julian Luffman was using the board at Lepe Beach in the New Forest, Hampshire, on August 28 2021.

His wife, Olesya Luffman, told the Winchester hearing her husband suffered from spondylitis – inflammation of the spine – which meant he had limited movement in his shoulders and neck.

She said Mr Luffman, from Southampton, became interested in paddle boarding and had done research before buying two inflatable boards for their family about a month before his death.

She said he chose Lepe Beach because he felt there would be calmer seas to try out the boards.

Mrs Luffman said she was using her windsurfing board half a mile out while her son and daughter were sat on one of the boards closer to the beach.

She said Mr Luffman, wearing shorts and a T-shirt but no lifejacket, started using the other board and came out to her.

She said her husband was stood up and fell feet first into the water as he tried to turn the board around, with his head going under the waves.

Mrs Luffman said: “He came up head first, tried to grab the board, the board turned round and the fin hit him between the eyes.

“I said, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘No, not really’.”

She said she took her board over to her husband and went into the sea and tried to support him by grabbing his T-shirt while attempting to hold him above the water.

She added: “I was screaming and screaming and screaming. He was just not responding, his hands slipped away. I knew he was dead already.”

Mrs Luffman said she first thought her husband was joking, adding: “I couldn’t believe it was happening. He was a very strong gentleman.”

She criticised the lack of lifeguards at the beach, saying: “If people had been watching with binoculars and seen my husband and called the Coastguard he would still be alive. I nearly died.”

The inquest was told boat users heard Mrs Luffman’s screaming and rushed over in a bid to rescue Mr Luffman before a Coastguard rescue helicopter arrived and winched him out of the water.

He was taken to Southampton General Hospital where he was pronounced dead following attempts to resuscitate him.

Coroner Jason Pegg said a post-mortem examination showed the cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by vasovagal attack and immersion in water.

Recording a narrative conclusion, he said: “Jason’s death was a direct consequence of being underwater, swallowing water, that stopped him breathing.”

He added: “Mr Luffman could not swim at all, he had no swimming ability at all. He had suffered from spondylitis for some time and that would affect his movement also.

“Having paddled out to Mrs Luffman, there came a time when Julian tried to turn the paddle board around.

“It was probably the first time he had tried to do so. He fell off and went feet first into the sea and his head was immersed in the water.

“Julian had come straight back up. He then grabbed hold of the board. While attempting to take hold of it, he was struck by one of the fins.

“He managed to hold one of the fins of the paddle board but there came a time when, as Mrs Luffman graphically described, he gently let go of that fin, looked up at the sky and drifted back into the water.

“His lips were blue when that happened.

“When Mr Luffman gently slipped away, he had probably passed away.”