Investigation under way into Hunstanton kite surfing tragedy as tributes pour in for Sean Sands
PUBLISHED: 08:23 09 March 2015 | UPDATED: 14:30 09 March 2015
It is believed that Sean Sands, who was in his 40s, had been unable to trigger his emergency quick release.
The tragedy came on the warmest day of the year, on a crowded beach at Hunstanton filled with wind and kite surfers who were making the most of the sunshine on Saturday.
The incident is being investigated by the 4,000-strong British Kitesports Association. Spokesman Peter Shaw said it was too early to say what had happened.
“We always advise our members to obtain fully-qualified instruction,” he said. “All modern kites come with multiple safety systems and we’d advise any rider to practise using these systems repeatedly.
“There is an inherent element of risk to this sport. You’re never going to remove that risk because that’s why people do this sport. It’s that edge which makes kite surfing so popular.”
A statement from Hunstanton Sailing Club, of which Mr Sands was a long-standing member, said fellow kite surfers had immediately tried to help him when he got into difficulty at about 3.30pm, and the emergency services had been called.
“Tragically, despite the best efforts of everyone, including the RNLI, coastguard and the air ambulance
Sean did not make it,” the statement said. It said Mr Sands, who it is understood was from Heacham, had been popular, and someone who had made everyone feel like they were a close friend.
“Hunstanton Sailing Club has lost a true brother, a friend to so many and one of life’s genuinely effervescent characters.”
Kite surfing grew in popularity about 20 years ago, and it has gradually become considered a serious water sport.
The pilot, stands on a board, and wears a harness to balance his or her weight against the kite, but the kite is not attached to the board.
All kites have some form of safety system to allow complete ejection of the kite’s power without releasing the kite completely.
While kite surfers regularly make the most of Norfolk’s coastline, the sport has its dangers.
There have been several accidents in the past few years.
In June 2010 a kite surfer got stuck in his lines off Hunstanton and had to be rescued by lifeboat crew.
In June 2012, a kite surfer suffered neck, back and arm injuries after a gust of wind lifted him up 20 foot before sending him crashing back into the sea.
In December 2013 a kite surfer got into trouble off Southwold beach when his equipment failed.
Yesterday there was a flag at half-mast outside the sailing clubhouse, and very few kite surfers took to the water as a mark of respect.
Kite surfer Greg Richardson said: “He was a really happy chap, always smiling and a really nice bloke – we’re all cut up and in shock.
“They [the club members] did everything they possibly could.
“I’ve been kite surfing here for five years and they all look after one another, always.
“It’s a close family and it’s like one of ours is gone.”
Richard Evans, 46, from Norwich, who was out windsurfing on Saturday, said when it happened there had been about 40 people out on the water spread over a big area.
He said: “I was about two miles off shore when I saw the lifeboat come out. When I came back onto shore it was a bit subdued and I asked what had happened.”
There were multiple 999 calls to the emergency services, and Hunstanton RNLI Lifeboat was paged.
The lifeboat was launched and arrived on the scene about half a mile from the boathouse, where Mr Sands had been dragged from the water onto the beach by other kite surfers.
Geoff Needham, from Hunstanton lifeboat, praised everyone for their efforts. He said: “Everybody was working on him for quite a while, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to the family and relatives, so tragic that a sporting activity should end so tragically.”
Scores of tributes from people who had known Mr Sands were posted on the sailing club’s Facebook page, with heartfelt comments passing best wishes to his family and children.
One tribute read: “Deepest condolences to friends and family, take piece in the knowledge he was doing something he loved and that he died, having first lived.”
Another read: “There are no words fitting enough to comfort friends and family but the weight of this terrible tragedy is felt by all watersports users across Norfolk and beyond.”
Peter Mallam, 69, who has run Wash View Café on the promenade for 16 years, said Hunstanton had been heaving with windsurfers and kite surfers on Saturday.
He said: “It was absolutely manic. All the parking spaces along the promenade were taken by windsurfers and kite surfers. It was the busiest I’ve seen it for a long time.”
Of Mr Sands’s death, he said: “It’s so sad. Nobody’s come to terms with it, not everybody is fully aware of what’s happened.”
It is understood Mr Sands was a triathlete, and a statement on Kings Lynn Triathlon Club’s Facebook on Sunday said: “I am sad to report that a fellow triathlete and good friend to many of our members had a tragic accident whilst out kite surfing yesterday.
“I would say on behalf of all our members that our thoughts are with Sean’s family and friends.”
Would you like to pay tribute to Mr Sands? Email firstname.lastname@example.org