Dad-of-two Julian Luffman who could not swim died in paddleboard accident off Lepe beach
A FATHER who could not swim drowned off Lepe beach when he went out on his new paddleboard for the first time with his wife and children, an inquest heard.
Julian Luffman (51) had bought two boards a month earlier despite suffering from arthritis which affected his mobility so much he could not swim "at all", his wife told Winchester Coroner's Court.
On 28th August last year, the Luffmans went out on the paddleboards with their son and daughter.
Neither Olesya Luffman nor her husband wore a lifejacket, with Mr Luffman, a construction manager from Southampton, only in a T-shirt and shorts.
Mrs Luffman, who was on a windsurfer and wearing a wetsuit, told the court she shouted for her husband to come back as he passed her, half a mile out from the shore at Lepe.
But as the father-of-two turned around, his inflatable paddleboard wobbled and he fell feet first into the sea with his head going under the water.
Mr Luffman attempted to grab the board to climb back on but it flipped and one of its three fins struck him on the head.
The coroner heard that Mrs Luffman was screaming, asking him if he was okay.
He said: "No, not really" as he grabbed onto a fin before his arms went "floppy" and he floated back into the water, staring blankly up at the sky.
She told the coroner's court: "I was screaming and screaming and screaming.
"I was trying to put him on my board because it was wider than his paddleboard. I nearly died as well. He was very, very blue around the lips.
"He was holding me, but I knew that he was dead already. I don't know how it's possible that he died in hospital.
"He had no fear of anything, he was a very strong gentleman."
The crews of two nearby boats went to help after hearing her screaming: "Help me: my husband, he's died", but witnesses told the coroner Mr Luffman was unresponsive when they got to him.
He was flown by helicopter to Southampton General Hospital, after being in the water for 45 minutes, where he was pronounced dead.
The court heard Mrs Luffman met her husband, who she described as a "gentleman" in Spain in 2007, before they relocated to the UK in 2012.
Mrs Luffman, from Saratov, Russia, told the hearing he was suffering from spondylitis, a form of arthritis, which made his neck and shoulders hurt and affected his driving and work as a builder.
Despite this, her husband– who has been described as "always up for an adventure" – was not scared of water and had been researching paddleboards online for weeks.
The day before his death, she had to dissuade him from trying out his new kit out on Southsea beach in Portsmouth, as the water was too rough, the coroner was told.
She added: "He could not swim at all. He wanted to try using the paddleboard at Southsea. But I said 'no, you're going to die'."
Asked by the coroner why her husband did not wear a lifejacket, she said: "He didn't even think about wearing a lifejacket. I swim like a fish in the water so didn't even think about it."
Hampshire area coroner Jason Pegg concluded: "Having paddled out to his wife, and it seems to me he was able to do that, he started to turn the paddleboard around and it was probably the first time he ever tried to do so.
"He fell off and his head was submerged in water.
"He came straight back up, bobbed back up to the surface. He grabbed his paddleboard, it flipped over and he was struck by one of the fins which are on the rear of the board.
"Following that, he managed to hang onto the fin but there came a time when Mrs Luffman graphically described that he literally, gently let go, looked up into the sky and drifted into the water.
"Mrs Luffman also graphically described that her husband's lips were blue.
"It seems that when he slipped away on his paddleboard, he had passed away.
"She did what she could to try to help her husband, grabbing onto his T-shirt and shouting out for help to other boat users.
"Having arrived in hospital, he had sea water in his lungs. The formal time of death was given in the hospital but I find as fact he died in the sea in the moments before slipping off his own board, letting go of the fin."
Coroner Pegg recorded a narrative conclusion, with the cause of death as cardiac arrest in the sea brought on by the immersion in water.
A fundraiser set up in Mr Luffman's memory to help support his family raised over £5,000.