Brave Blackpool man drowned while trying to save suicidal woman off North Pier

A brave Blackpool man drowned after rushing into the sea to save his suicidal friend, despite being unable to swim himself.

By Wes Holmes
Monday, 24th January 2022, 1:36 pm
Updated Monday, 24th January 2022, 2:03 pm

Alex Gibson, 22, was found face down in the water around 200m off the Blackpool Tower headland shortly after 5am on July 30 2021.

He had gone into the sea near the North Pier at around 4.10am that day following an alarming phonecall with a female friend, who told him she wanted to end her own life.

Minutes later, a homeless man who was sleeping nearby was awoken by the sound of a woman screaming "Alex, I can't live without you!".

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"This brave young man" - Alex Gibson

He rushed to the edge of the Promenade, where he saw Mr Gibson struggling in the water before disappearing under the Pier.

At an inquest at Blackpool town hall today, the court heard how Mr Gibson, a former Unity Academy student who worked at C Fresh chippy, had been on a night out with his friends, Curtis Busby and Dylan and David Dickson, when tragedy struck.

The four friends entered the Trilogy night club on Talbot Road at around 10pm on July 29, where they met with the woman before going their separate ways.

Mr Gibson and his friends went to Walkabout, while the woman went with her friends to Sapphires.

While attending the club, the woman, who had a history of mental health problems, became despondent and headed towards Blackpool seafront.

She phoned Mr Gibson, who phoned her back, then rushed to meet her.

The woman entered the water and Mr Gibson went in after in an attempt to save her, but ended up in difficulties himself as he did not know how to swim.

She said: "We were grabbing onto each other, trying to keep each other afloat. I realised that the only way we were both getting out is if someone got help, so I was trying to express to him that I was going to get out and get help.

"It took me a while to swim back because the current was strong. I went to grab my phone but realised it had come off in the sea.

"I was trying to shout to him and tell him it would be OK, and as soon as I realised I didn't have my phone I started shouting for help.

"He was just trying to stay afloat.

"I just started screaming for help. I didn't know what else to do."

Her screams alerted two men, Mark Driver and David Langton, who were sleeping rough near the North Pier.

Mr Langton called 999 and went down to the lower part of the Promenade to check on the woman, while Mr Driver stayed at the top of the steps.

Mr Langton said: "Around 4.20am I had been asleep on the Prom and had been woken up by Mark shouting 'get your phone out, there's someone in the water'. I then made my way down to the lower part of the steps. I've seen (the woman), she appeared hysterical and was screaming and shouting 'Alex'.

"I was worried she would enter the water so I stayed with her and put my arm around her. I was worried about her being cold, so I put my blanket around her.

"Her hair looked wet. I actually thought she was topless.

"She told me she wanted to kill shelf. She told me that she had been in the and that her friend couldn't swim."

Mr Driver said: "I noticed a male in the sea, about 15ft away from the Prom. The male was facing away from me and he was struggling to keep his head above the water. It was dark, and I lost sight of him. All this time, the female was shouting for help."

A major rescue operation involving coastguard teams from Fleetwood and Lytham, RNLI volunteers from Blackpool and Fleetwood, and a rescue helicopter was launched.

He was found floating at 5.06am and was taken to shore by lifeboat. He was taken by ambulance to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at around 6am.

A post-mortem examination found 172mg of alcohol in Mr Gibson's body, more than twice the legal driving limit.

Pathologist Sudoba Weerasinghe said the cause of death was drowning, contributed to by alcohol use.

The court heard that, after the incident, the woman told police that Mr Gibson had followed her into the sea.

However, today, the 18-year-old said she 'really can't remember' how they both ended up struggling in the water.

She said: "I called Alex he gave me a hug and we had a chat. I can't remember what we chatted about. I then remember walking up the steps away from the sea, and then we were both in the sea away from the North Pier."

Detective inspector Christopher Naidu said it remained the police's position that Mr Gibson had died trying to rescue his friend, based on her initial statement and police body cam footage taken at the scene which recorded her repeatedly saying: "He came in after me."

Handing down a conclusion of death by misadventure, coroner Alan Wilson said: "It seems to me that I must find that the details (the woman) provided to the police were correct, which is that she was either in the sea before Alex arrived of she got into the water in a distressed state shortly after he arrived, and that this brave young man got in to help her. He would not have been in the sea otherwise.

"Disregarding his own welfare, knowing he could not swim, he bravely got in the water and tried to help her.

"Getting into the sea is dangerous whatever the time and even for a strong swimmer. Its likely he got into difficulties pretty quickly and despite his best efforts he had been seen trying to stay above the water. He could not survive."

The court heard how Mr Gibson was known to have previously self harmed, but there was no evidence that he intended to end his own life on July 30.

His friend and roommate Dylan Dickson said: "I have known Alex for 10 years. I regarded Alex as being like a brother, and we went through everything together. He was a proud vegan, an animal lover, he had a heart of gold and was easy to get on with."

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