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'He was trying so hard to swim to shore' - inquest hears of medical student's tragic death swimming at Howth beach

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Howth in north Co Dublin. Photo: Elena Schweitzer

Howth in north Co Dublin. Photo: Elena Schweitzer

Howth in north Co Dublin. Photo: Elena Schweitzer

A final-year medical student drowned after getting caught in a strong current while swimming at a secluded beach in Howth, Co Dublin, last year, an inquest has been told.

Ali Feras Hejazi (26) died after getting into difficulty while bathing at the Hidden Beach near the Baily Lighthouse in Howth on April 2, 2021.

Mr Hejazi, a Saudi national who grew up in Doha, Qatar, had come to Ireland to study in 2013 and was in his final year of medical studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland at the time of his death.

An inquest at Dublin District Coroner’s Court today heard evidence from two eyewitnesses about how Mr Hejazi, who had been living in Dublin 8 at the time, appeared to be struggling to get back to shore shortly after he had entered the water.

In a statement, Anna Nieznalska, said she was passed by Mr Hejazi on the steep path down a cliff and he was in the water by the time she got down to the beach.

Ms Nieznalska said he had gone out only to where the water was up to his shoulder and was swimming back and forth parallel to the shore.

She recalled thinking he was very brave because the water was so cold but also that he looked “quite experienced” as a swimmer.

After hearing his cries for help, Ms Nieznalska said Mr Hejazi appeared to be fighting the current to try to get ashore but was struggling against the waves.

She said some people on the beach found a fishing buoy and threw it towards the swimmer but he was unable to reach it, despite being only about a foot away from him.

“He was trying so hard to swim to the shore but the current was too strong and it stopped him getting close to the shore,” she added.

Ms Nieznalska said she called the Irish Coast Guard but Mr Hejazi was dragged under by the current before help arrived.

Another witness, Leticia de Castro, said she had seen the deceased coming down the steps to the beach about midday and that he had started shouting for help a few minutes after he began swimming.

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Ms de Castro said she and two others who were at the Hidden Beach started looking around for something with which to rescue him.

Ms de Castro said she realised there was nothing she could do to help the swimmer and a short time later she saw his body floating on the surface of the water.

A paramedic, Jamie Holland, said an Irish Coast Guard Helicopter was needed to winch Mr Hejazi off the beach up the cliff to a waiting ambulance where efforts were made to resuscitate the swimmer.

However, he was pronounced dead a short time later after arrival at Beaumont Hospital.

Another student and flatmate of the victim, Khalad Malallah, described his late friend as “pure-hearted” as well as “very bright and very innocent”.

In a statement, Mr Malallah said he believed Mr Hejazi was a very good swimmer who regularly used the pool at the Iveagh Fitness Club as well as in the sea in Howth and Bray.

He dismissed any suggestion that his friend’s death might have been suicide, saying Mr Hejazi was also “very religious”.

The security manager of the Saudi Embassy in Dublin, Mokhtar Addani, said the victim’s body was brought to the mosque in Clonskeagh for a religious ceremony before it was repatriated to Qatar on April 8 last year.

Garda Clodagh Sharkey told the inquest there was nothing suspicious about the death, while a postmortem confirmed that Mr Hejazi died as a result of drowning.

The coroner, Aisling Gannon, returned a verdict of accidental death.

Ms Gannon expressed her condolences to Mr Hejazi’s family, who attended the inquest by remote video link, for the loss of their relative in what she said was a “tragic accident”.


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