Fisheries & Fish Industry

Gareth Willington died after trying to save son Daniel on fishing trip in Wales

Gareth Willington died after trying to save son Daniel on fishing trip in Wales

Brave father died in vain trying to save his newlywed son who had been dragged overboard without lifejacket on fishing trip

  • Experienced fishermen Gareth, 59, and Daniel Willington, 32, were searching for lobster and crab in choppy waters off the Welsh coast
  • Tragedy struck when Daniel got tangled in ropes and was dragged off boat
  • His father frantically tried to cut through ropes but was also pulled over
  • Inquest today heard neither had been wearing lifejackets on April 28 

Thomas Burrows for MailOnline

A brave father died in vain trying to save his newly-wed son when their fishing trip together turned into a double tragedy, an inquest heard.

Experienced fishermen Gareth, 59, and Daniel Willington, 32, were searching for lobster and crab in choppy waters off the Welsh coast in their 38ft vessel called ‘Harvester’.

Tragedy struck when Daniel became tangled in ropes as they came close to fishing grounds and he was dragged over the back of the boat in the dead of night.

Gareth, a former oil rig worker for BP, frantically tried to cut through the ropes with a knife to free his son – but he too was pulled into sea, Pembrokeshire Coroner’s Court heard.

An inquest today heard neither had been wearing lifejackets when they were swept out to sea on April 28.

Experienced fishermen Gareth and Daniel Willington drowned during a fishing trip on April 28
Experienced fishermen Gareth and Daniel Willington drowned during a fishing trip on April 28

Experienced fishermen Gareth and Daniel Willington drowned during a fishing trip on April 28


The experienced pair were not wearing lifejackets during the tragedy (pictured, their ‘Harvester’ boat before the incident)

Gareth was found 16 hours later by a coastguard helicopter. He was winched aboard but later pronounced dead in hospital. 

The body of his only son has never been recovered.

They didn’t get a chance to make a mayday call and the alarm was only raised when their 27-tonne boat was found on rocks off St Davids, west Wales.  

Although seas were calm when they set off at 2.30am from Milford Haven, the weather quickly deteriorated.

The pitch black seas were just 12C, giving a maximum survival time of no more than six hours adrift.   

Gail Willington, 59, who was left widowed and without her only son following the tragedy, urged the coroner to recommend laws which would make the wearing of lifejackets compulsory at all times for fishermen at sea. 

The pair ran the family fishing business together and supplied expensive lobsters to local hotels and markets around Pembrokeshire, west Wales.

The family lived in a rural cottage near the village of Carew and were well-known members of the community. 

The smashed remains of the 'Harvester' after it crashed on to rocks along the Pembrokeshire coast
The smashed remains of the 'Harvester' after it crashed on to rocks along the Pembrokeshire coast

The smashed remains of the ‘Harvester’ after it crashed on to rocks along the Pembrokeshire coast

The coroner Mark Layton recorded a verdict of accidental death on Daniel and misadventure on father Gareth. 

He said: ‘It is likely that Daniel became entangled in the back rope and Gareth has come to his assistance and they have both gone overboard. Gareth tried to assist his son.

‘These deaths have shocked the local community and I offer my condolences to the family.

‘Despite previous recommendations by the maritime and coastguard agency that the wearing of personal flotation devices should be compulsory on the deck of any sea vessel, no legislation has been put in place to make it mandatory.

‘Therefore I will compile a report to the agency asking them to make the wearing of personal flotation devices compulsory and they have a statutory duty to respond within 56 days.

‘I hope they will say action is going to be taken and it will become mandatory, just like wearing seatbelts in a moving car.’

This map shows the fishing area of the boat and its location during various witness sightings on the day
This map shows the fishing area of the boat and its location during various witness sightings on the day

This map shows the fishing area of the boat and its location during various witness sightings on the day

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found evidence of a knife being used in an attempt to cut the rope.

The report said: ‘Closed circuit television recording indicates that when Harvester sailed from Milford Haven neither Gareth nor Daniel was wearing a personal flotation device [PFD].

‘When Gareth was recovered from the water following the accident he was not wearing a PFD. Evidence suggests that it was not the practice for Gareth and Daniel to wear a PFD when fishing.’ 

According to the MAIB, chances of survival overboard are five times greater if a lifejacket is worn. 

The wearing of lifejackets is law in countries including Ireland, France, Norway, Belgium and Spain.

Many fishermen choose not to wear them because their movements feel restricted, or worry they will catch on equipment.

Tragic: The body of fisherman Daniel Willington, 32, (second right) has never been found
Tragic: The body of fisherman Daniel Willington, 32, (second right) has never been found

Tragic: The body of fisherman Daniel Willington, 32, (second right) has never been found

The boat, named the Harvester, pictured, was seen crashing into rocks before sinking
The boat, named the Harvester, pictured, was seen crashing into rocks before sinking

The boat, named the Harvester, pictured, was seen crashing into rocks before sinking

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