Father of girl who died in Rhodes parasailing tragedy says nephew who survived is fighting for life


The father of the girl who died in a parasailing accident in Rhodes says his nephew is fighting for his life in hospital.

Tony Hayes said he has no idea if James Connelly, 15, will recover from the horror fall, which caused the death of his brother Michael, 13, and their cousin Jessica, 15.

A terrifying storm blew up off the coast of Rhodes causing the rope fastening the trio to a speedboat to snap. 

Cousins Jessica Hayes, 15 (centre), and Michael Connelly, 13 (left) – known to his family as Mikey – died during a parasailing accident in Rhodes . Mikey’s brother James Connelly, 15, is in a critical condition in hospital after the accident

A terrifying storm blew up off the coast of Rhodes causing the rope fastening the trio to a speedboat to snap. Pictured: Jessica Hayes, 15 (left) and Michael Connelly, 13

A terrifying storm blew up off the coast of Rhodes causing the rope fastening the trio to a speedboat to snap. Pictured: Jessica Hayes, 15 (left) and Michael Connelly, 13

Jessica’s father Tony, from Kettering, said: ‘Right now we want to get ourselves home and lock ourselves in our home.

‘We have no idea if James is going to recover but we just want to get him home.’

Tony also revealed the man running the boat trip was aware of poor weather forecasts but decided to go a different route hoping to avoid it.

He said: ‘The guy in charge said that the weather was going to get worse later so it was better to go out on the boat early.

The family did not know the tragedy that had befallen their children for some time, with the boat captain not returning to the beach. Pictured: The trio play the card game UNO together

The family did not know the tragedy that had befallen their children for some time, with the boat captain not returning to the beach. Pictured: The trio play the card game UNO together

‘We waved them off and they should have stayed in our line of sight. We’ve been on the island for four days and watched other people on the boat and it was always in sight.

‘But because the weather was coming in he decided to go a different way. They went to a new location to avoid the poor weather coming in.

‘He went away from his normal direction to where it was brighter, but he went out of sight. I think there was about eight people on the boat in all.’

Jessica Hayes (right), 15, died in Rhodes after a horrific parasailing accident, alongside her cousin Michael Connelly, 13. They initially heard that James was in the worst condition, and Jessica and Michael had only suffered fractures

Jessica Hayes (right), 15, died in Rhodes after a horrific parasailing accident, alongside her cousin Michael Connelly, 13. They initially heard that James was in the worst condition, and Jessica and Michael had only suffered fractures

Pictured from left to right in a photograph from 2012: Jessica Hayes, James and Michael Connelly

Pictured from left to right in a photograph from 2012: Jessica Hayes, James and Michael Connelly

The family did not know the tragedy that had befallen their children for some time, with the boat captain not returning to the beach.

Tony said: ‘We found out something had gone wrong because the boat returned without the kids on it.

‘The guy who took them out wasn’t on the boat either when it returned. It was a tourist driving it back and he was crying, ‘Something bad has happened.’

Jessica's father Tony paid tribute to his 'beautiful daughter' (pictured

Jessica’s father Tony paid tribute to his ‘beautiful daughter’ (pictured)

‘But there was no one with walkie talkies who could get word from the scene of the accident and no one could tell us what had happened.

‘My wife spent three hours waiting on the beach for the kids to come back.

‘I had to take our youngest daughter Molly away from the situation because it was too much.

‘We didn’t find out the full truth until much later when we got to the hospital.’ 

Tony paid tribute to his ‘beautiful’ daughter as he criticised medics for their response to the tragedy.

They initially heard that James was in the worst condition, and Jessica and Michael had only suffered fractures.

He told The Sun: ‘They were dead at the hospital the whole time – and yet we were being strung along with false hope that they were all ok.

‘The way the nurse told us, after four hours, that they had died. There was no empathy. She almost shouted it. It was so stern.  

‘It was four hours until we were able to find out what happened. They put us through misery for four hours.’

Sharon and Philip Connelly are pictured with their sons James (right) and Michael (centre left)

Sharon and Philip Connelly are pictured with their sons James (right) and Michael (centre left)

Pictured: The rocks where the three young people were found in an area known as Gina in Rhodes, Greece today

Pictured: The rocks where the three young people were found in an area known as Gina in Rhodes, Greece today 

The police even came to collect the family’s passports during the four hours but refused to say what had happened.   

They later learned police were using the photos to identify the bodies, which Tony was heartbreakingly forced to confirm yesterday. 

Today, the first images emerged of the three children. Taken in 2012, one photo shows them huddled together and smiling in their school uniforms.  

A source close to the family said: ‘Jessica was really creative. That is what she loved, being creative. And she just loved people. She was the most loving person.

‘The two families always looked forward to going on holiday together. They work hard and it gives a release from reality.’ 

While in the air the trio veered onto a jagged outcrop just out of sight of sunbathers and are believed to have fallen from a height of 400ft. Due to the remote location of where the teenagers fell, it took rescue crews several hours to reach them. 

It is understood that James – who survived – fell onto the rocks, breaking both his legs and suffering injuries to his head and spine.  

James’s mother, Sharon Connelly, 47, fainted when she eventually saw the extensive damage to her son’s face in hospital, protothema reported. 

She then regained consciousness and is said to have cried out ‘Where are my other two children’, thinking that her niece Jessica and son Michael may have only been injured and brought to the hospital in another ambulance.   

Yesterday a staff member told how one of the mothers from the group came out to the beach where the teenagers had set off from after they failed to return.

He said: ‘She was asking the lifeguards, ‘Where are the kids? They should have been back by now.’ She had no idea what had taken place. No one did. 

James McLean holds up a painting of his grandson Michael (right), alongside his brother James (left)

James McLean holds up a painting of his grandson Michael (right), alongside his brother James (left)

Michael and James Connelly are pictured in a photograph from 2014. James - who survived the tragedy - is currently in critical condition at a hospital in Rhodes

Michael and James Connelly are pictured in a photograph from 2014. James – who survived the tragedy – is currently in critical condition at a hospital in Rhodes 

‘The company that took the kids out have been operating here for about fifteen years.

‘Nothing like this has happened before.

‘The first we realised was when the coastguard came and took the boss away.

‘Two boats were taken too, presumably for forensic examination.’  

The accident happened between 12pm and 1pm yesterday afternoon.  

Norwegian couple Heir Hereid and Ine Sandal, in their 50s, witnessed the tragedy unfold from their holiday home.

The pair spoke as they laid flowers at the death spot, telling how the boat desperately tried to catch up with the parasailing trio after the line snapped.

The teenagers, two aged 15, and another, aged 13, were holidaying in Rhodes, Greece , when the incident occurred causing them to fall from an 'extreme' height

The teenagers, two aged 15, and another, aged 13, were holidaying in Rhodes, Greece , when the incident occurred causing them to fall from an ‘extreme’ height

Pictured: Eye witnesses Heir Hereid and Ine Sandal by the rocks where the three young people were found in Rhodes, Greece today

Pictured: Eye witnesses Heir Hereid and Ine Sandal by the rocks where the three young people were found in Rhodes, Greece today 

Heir said: ‘I was looking out my window and I saw a parachute go flying by.

‘It was unattached to anything and I was thinking, ‘Is this some crazy person doing a stunt?’

‘Next thing I know a boat comes racing along about 200 metres (650ft) behind desperately trying to catch up with the parachute.

‘It was going full speed.

‘I saw the parachute collapse but from where I was I couldn’t tell if it had landed in the ocean or on the rocks.

‘Only later did I learn the truth from authorities. It’s heartbreaking.’

Ine said: ‘It’s a tragedy. We can’t believe it.’ 

Locals said the storm which claimed the children’s lives blew up without warning. 

Builder Manolis Markoulis, 60, said: ‘It happened in a split second, the sky turned black and a big wind blew up. 

‘There was a sandstorm on the beach and people ran for cover.

‘It’s a freak accident and the whole island can’t get over what happened.’

Yesterday workers for the parasailing company – which operates from a stretch of beach at the rear of the hotel – were being questioned by the island’s prosecutor.

It has emerged that the boat handler at the centre of the tragedy could face manslaughter charges for not ending the trip when the storm began.

A spokesperson for Greek coastguard said: ‘The coastguard was informed of the accident by a military watchtower and the water sports company. 

The two teenagers were found on the rocks near the city of Lindos in Rhodes, Greece

The two teenagers were found on the rocks near the city of Lindos in Rhodes, Greece

‘A coastguard vessel was sent to the scene immediately.

‘The ambulance service was informed.

‘They were found by coastguard in a secluded rocky area and they were pulled out by the 51-year-old parasailing boat handler with the help of the fire service.

‘The 15-year-old boy was taken to the General Hospital while the dead were taken to the morgue.

‘An investigation is underway. The boat handler has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.’ 

The parents of the dead children were taken to a local morgue to identify them.

It’s understood the family at the centre of the tragedy are from Corby, Northamptonshire.

Last night a Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman said that responsibility for the case lies with the Greek authorities and the Foreign Office but that the Northamptonshire coroner will be informed.  

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