Pembrokeshire: Warning from mum whose son was killed by freak wave while watching sunset

The mother of a boy who drowned after being swept under the water is urging people to help children and young people enjoy the water safely.

Mother-of-two Carli Newell, 36, from Pembrokeshire, lost her son Zac Thompson when he was 11-years-old last summer.

Zac was at the coast with his family and friends watching the sunset when an unexpected wave swept him under the water. He died in hospital the following day.

His mum says he was like any boy his age, "a real character, really bubbly" and "could fill up any room." Described as kind, clever, mischievous, and "a proper little boy who everyone loved," Carli said that a year on, the impact of Zac's death is "still palpable within our community."

Zac's mum Carli said "Despite his small stature, he emanated a larger-than-life aura, drawing people towards him."

Pembrokeshire has the highest water-related deaths out of the whole of Wales. Carli is now sharing her story to help encourage others to be more aware of water safety when they head to the beach.

Zac and his brother had no intention of going in the water – they were fully dressed, wearing "hoodies, trainers, all layers of clothing on."

Thirty percent of people who die through accidental drowning in Wales have no intention of ever entering the water. That is why Carli has decided to get on board with Water Safety Wales and support the launch of a new public health report highlighting the dangers.

She said: "When you go to the beach and you intend to swim you know what you are looking for. You know if it's too cold, you know if the current is getting a bit strong and you can make your way to safety. "But if you've got no intention of entering the water you've got the shock element, extra layer of clothing and weight, injuries to contend with.

"It is just for me really important that people know that if you find yourself in trouble unexpectedly you will know what to do."

She continued: "Zac loved the water, hot tub, pool, we had it all at home he was always splashing around front flips, jumps, everything. We went to the beach regularly to Angle beach regularly, and we would quite often jump off the rocks and things like that.

"He was more than comfortable in the water it wasn't a case of he couldn't swim. He was competent. His friends and his brother who he was with, very competent. It was more of a case of the shock, injury from the rocks and the tide because of the way the water was coming in next to the rocks, it all sort of came together."

Carli is encouraging everyone to be "more aware of their surroundings"

Carli doesn't want people to think she is discouraging them from going into the water or to the beach. She hopes her involvement in raising awareness will help others know their limits to "make sure everyone comes home."

She wants everyone to be "more aware of their surroundings" adding: "I think it's just a case of making sure when you go to the beach if you are going on the rocks are you prepared that if you fall in, someone knows where you are.

"Do you know where the life ring is? Do people know that you are there? Are the people you are with competent swimmers.

"All these things take an extra five minutes before you enter the water but it could save your life."

It comes as a new report reveals that drowning is the second most common cause of non-intentional injury fatalities in children under 18 years of age in Wales.

What does the report say?

  • Between 2013 and 2022, there were 62 non-intentional water-related deaths involving children and young people under 25 years of age

  • Nearly 80% of the children and young people were male and nearly half were taking part in activities, not intending on entering the water

  • Almost half of all fatalities occurred during June, July and August, and Sunday was the most common day

  • A third of fatalities occurred in a river and a third occurred at the coast, shore or beach

Memorial matches have been held in Zac's memory to raise funds for the charity Forever 11

Ms Newell has established the charity Forever 11 to raise awareness of water safety in Zac’s memory.

She said: "Zac remains affectionately remembered by all who knew him, with several memorial matches held in the sports he adored, a tradition that will endure for years to come.

"Despite his small stature, he emanated a larger-than-life aura, drawing people towards him."

Addressing the new report, Carli said "the significance of water safety and education regarding appropriate actions during emergencies cannot be overstated".

There were five deaths of children under 18 years of age from drowning in 2022 which was higher than in previous years, according to Public Health Wales.

Chris Cousens, Chair of Water Safety Wales said: "The aim of this report is to help inform the preventative work of water safety professionals in Wales to prevent future deaths of children and young people from water-related fatalities.

Chris Cousens, Chair of Water Safety Wales said the aim of the report is to prevent "future deaths" from water-related fatalities.

"The death of a child or young person has devastating and life changing impacts on families and the wider community. We are incredibly grateful to Carli for her strength and determination to make a difference in memory of Zac.

"It is sobering to reveal the almost half of the children and young people were taking part in activities where they had not intended entering the water, just like Zac when the fatal incident occurred.

"We are hoping the release of this report will encourage families to be aware of the risks and be mindful of the dangers of open water".

Chris added: "With the summer holidays upon us, we want people to continue to enjoy the water, but by highlighting the risks, we want people to be aware of their surroundings, be well equipped and know exactly what to do should they get into trouble."

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