The mother of a four-year-old boy lost at sea after falling from a seafront jetty has spoken of the moment he disappeared under the water, saying she knew immediately she would not see him again.
Rachel McCollum has told how Dylan Cecil of Kettering fell into a “whirlpool” after slipping while just a yard away from her and his father during a family holiday in Burnham-on-Sea.
She dived straight into the muddy waters after him following the accident on Sunday evening.
She said: “He was literally not even a metre away from me and he was jumping and slipped and I watched him fall in.
“I jumped in straight after him – what more could I do? He went, I knew as soon as I jumped in I was not getting him back.
“It was a whirlpool, it dragged me, I could feel myself being pulled under so I don’t know what my son went through.”
She thanked everyone who had searched for his body and implored people not to give up looking for her “gorgeous” and “bubbly” little boy.
She added: “I just want my son back.
“He is coming back, he’s definitely coming back. I just don’t want him to be lost out there and not come back at all.”
The search for Dylan was called off at 4.30pm on Monday.
Speaking at the time, Vince Irwin, coastguard sector manager for North Devon, said: “The search has now been terminated as of 4.30 this afternoon.
“We’ve had an extensive search throughout last night, the early hours of this morning and again this afternoon and have covered every possible area that we can think of.
“We have covered over two tides now and generally it would have shown over those periods. Small patrols will be going out in view of that.
“As you would expect it’s not good news for the family, like it’s not good news for us, they were very upset.”
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.
The family, from Kettering, were visiting Ms McCollum’s parents who live locally, and who today 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.
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 have spent the day at the scene, anxiously waiting for news.
But after searching late into last night the coastguard confirmed this morning the search for Dylan, who was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, had become a body recovery operation.
Stood next to a growing pile of floral tributes, Dylan’s grandparents said they wanted to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort.
Jackie McCollum said: “Rachel, our daughter, and Darren came up Friday with the kids, they were going back today and we were going to have the kids until Friday.
“We always had them for a week and would spoil them and Dylan always called us seaside nanny and granddad.
“He loved coming up to see us, he loved the seaside. He was a bubbly, bubbly, lovely kid. He was our only grandson. We’ve got five granddaughters, but he was our only grandson.”
David McCollum said: “We couldn’t have wished for a grandson any better.”
He added: “I just want to give thanks to everybody who has helped in the search mission and tried to get Dylan back for us. I can’t say thank you enough really.
“We’re all just devastated.”
Four coastguard rescue teams, four lifeboats, the coastguard sector manager, police and the RAF helicopter were all involved in the search and rescue operation, which was launched after a member of the public witnessed the boy’s parents’ attempts to rescue their son.
Severn Sector Coastguard manager Tristam Newey said: “The conditions on the jetty are that it would have been impossible to see the edge and that may have led to this accident occurring.
“Certainly, at the time, the water on either side of the jetty was quite deep and, combined with the vast current flow, once you’ve fallen into the water it is very difficult to swim back to shore.”
The scene was cordoned off by police last night, but re-opened this afternoon as the search operation was scaled down.
Superintendent Keith McCoubrey, of Avon and Somerset Police, said the family had been left “traumatised” by the “tragic” incident.
He said the family had been down on the beach playing with their three young children.
“At some point, Dylan wanted to go and see the sea, get a bit closer to it, and they went out on the jetty here, and unfortunately Dylan slipped off the edge and went under the water,” Supt McCoubrey said.
“At this time of year the tides here are very fast-flowing and the undercurrents are quite strong; unfortunately Dylan didn’t re-surface.
“Both his mum and dad entered the water immediately to try and recover Dylan, without success.
“The parents were in the water for quite a few minutes and they actually had to be pulled from the water by passers-by.
“At that point a large-scale search and rescue operation was launched, co-ordinated here by my colleagues in the Coastguard.”
He added: “There’s not much one can say in such tragic circumstances apart from the fact our hearts and minds and 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.”