The first photo of the British children at the centre of a fatal parasailing accident in Rhodes has emerged.
Cousins Jessica Hayes, 15, and Michael Connolly, 13, died when a terrifying storm blew up off the coast of Rhodes causing the rope fastening them to a speedboat to snap. Michael’s brother James, 15, was critically injured in the incident.
Today, the first image emerged of the three children. Taken in 2012, the 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.’
Pictured from left to right in a photograph from 2014: Jessica Hayes, James Connolly and Michael Connolly
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.
News of the tragedy didn’t immediately filter back to the children’s families staying at the four star Lindos Princess Hotel two miles away.
James’s mother fainted when she eventually saw the damage to her son’s face, protothema reported. When she regained consciousness she is said to have cried out ‘Where are my other two children’.
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.
Michael and James Connolly 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
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
‘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.