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A mother's nightmare

Plamen Petkov was like any other visitor to the beach, until he drowned saving the life of a 5-year-old girl.

Plamen Petkov, A mother's nightmare

Photo: Petkov Family

A devoted son to Antoaneta and older brother to Zhenya, the 32-year-old loved exploring the countryside and lived with his long-term girlfriend.

On that particular Summer’s day in May 2012, Plamen walked along the beach in West Wittering, West Sussex, talking to his friend. But a mother’s shout for help, as her daughter was dragged out to sea on an inflatable rubber ring, would set in motion a tragic turn of events. Within seconds Plamen had dived into the water and was swimming towards the girl who was being taken further and further out.

When he reached her, exhausted, she jumped into his arms and he tried to swim back towards the shore, holding her head above the waves. But Plamen himself was being dragged underwater by the current.

A woman stepped in to take the child; Plamen was brought unconscious to the shore. An air ambulance arrived 40 minutes later but he could not be saved.

'He's left a huge gap'

That day is a recurring nightmare that his mother, Antoaneta lives through. ‘I’m still in disbelief,’ she says, sitting beside a framed picture of her son, at her home in Sutton, Surrey. ‘He’s left a huge gap in our lives.

‘Everybody was shocked at what happened, but at the same time they were not surprised; my son had a very good heart. Everyone says it.’

Plamen, an electrician and British citizen of Bulgarian descent, has since been posthumously awarded the highest Bulgarian civilian distinction for self-sacrifice – the Honorary Decoration of St George. The award, however cherished, is small comfort for his mother.

But in grief has come a determination to raise awareness about the risks the sea can carry. ‘People don’t need to be afraid to go into the sea, but they need to have respect for it,’ Antoaneta says.

Respect the Water

Around 150 people drown around the UK coast every year. That's more than those killed in cycling accidents. Hard facts like these compel the RNLI to end preventable loss of life at sea.

Antoaneta says she supports the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign to make people more aware of how powerful the sea can be: ‘If people are more careful about the dangers of the water, then it will be better for everyone. My family and I support the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign. We don’t want anyone else to suffer a tragedy like ours.'