Investigation begins into Rhodes parasailing accident that left two British teens dead

Helena Smith in Athens
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: AegeanPhoto/Alamy</span>
Photograph: AegeanPhoto/Alamy

Greek judicial authorities have ordered an official investigation into a parasailing accident off Rhodes after two British teenagers died and a third was left in a critical condition.

The victims were named locally as 15-year-old Jessica Lee-Hayes and her 13-year-old cousin Michael Connelly. Doctors said the boy’s older brother, James, 15, was fighting for his life in Rhodes general hospital after being severely injured in the fall.

The teens, from Kettering, were holidaying with their parents who had booked into a hotel in the nearby settlement of Pefki.

Speaking to the Sun from the hospital, Jessica’s father, Tony, spoke of his family’s devastation, saying: “It’s like the world’s come to an end.”

“Jessica was a beautiful, beautiful lady. Extremely popular and very special. Mikey, her cousin, exactly the same. They’ve been stolen from us and we’re devastated.”

A public prosecutor released Nikos Mallios, the owner of a water sports company who was detained in the wake of the tragedy, pending the inquiry’s findings.

“The prosecutor gave instructions for the investigation to be expanded,” a police source said. Until then he [Mallios] has been released temporarily. No conditions have been set.”

The proprietor of a sea sports outlet in Lindos, Mallios appeared before the prosecutor on Thursday, a day after the tragedy unfolded outside the resort town. The 51-year-old was piloting the speedboat when coastguard officials said the towrope attached to the trio’s parasailing parachute snapped in stormy weather.

The youngsters were then propelled by gale force winds to a craggy promontory, where their bodies were later found.

“He was remanded in custody overnight,” a local coastguard officer said. “This is a huge tragedy and questions of responsibility have been raised. He has been detained in our holding cells and like everyone is in a state of shock.”

Authorities confirmed that the teenagers had died of injuries sustained on impact after falling from “an extremely high altitude” on to the rocks.

Rodiaki, the island’s oldest newspaper, reported emotional scenes outside the hospital, with the mother of the boy who had narrowly survived fainting as medics rushed him into the emergency ward.

Following similar tragedies, legislation has been tightened around popular water sports in the country, with parasailing requirements prohibiting three people or more from being towed at any one time. Minors under the age of 18 are barred from participating, while the sport is strictly forbidden in adverse weather conditions.

Advertising the “adrenaline pumping” activity on its website, the Lindos-based water sports company says: “We offer single and tandem (two people flying together) harness rides. Children can fly tandem with adults, no experience is required.”

The island’s coastguard chief, Spyros Tatis, who is overseeing the initial investigation, has reportedly argued in favour of charges of involuntary manslaughter and grievous bodily harm charges being brought. His inquiry will form the basis of further investigations that will be decisive in the public prosecutor’s ultimate decision.

“There is outrage on the island and a sense that justice must be served,” said one well-placed source. “So many of us woke up this morning thinking of the children’s parents.”

Parasailing accidents are not uncommon across the Mediterranean. In a similar incident in Turkey in 2011, a British holidaymaker plunged to his death when his harness snapped while parasailing. Two men were subsequently jailed.

Last year an 18-year-old Russian tourist also died in Turkey when his parasailing cable broke 200ft above the sea.