Tributes have been paid to a Market Harborough father who died after saving his two sons from drowning in strong currents off an Australian beach.
Andrew Priestley died in hospital after getting into difficulty at Burrill Beach, which is about 155 miles south of Sydney.
The 44-year-old, who was on a three-week driving holiday with his family from Sydney to Melbourne, had gone into the water at about midday on Friday to help his sons Matthew (12) and Daniel (10).
After rescuing the children, it is believed Mr Priestley suffered a heart attack.
Australian police said the man’s children were uninjured. A report is now being prepared for the coroner.
A minute’s silence was held before Borough Alliance’s football matches at Symington’s Recreation Ground in Harborough on Sunday.
A statement on the Borough Alliance Football Club website said: “Andrew Priestley tragically died saving his sons in a swimming accident in Australia.
“For many years Andrew was a regular figure at the club, where his sons Matthew and Daniel played.
“Our thoughts go out to his wife Amanda, the boys and his daughter Amelia.”
A statement on Market Harborough Rugby Club’s website also paid tribute.
Mike Fletcher, mini and juniors chairman at the club, said: “All at Market Harborough RUFC wish to express our condolences to the family and friends of Andrew Priestley, father-of-two of our young players, following the tragic news.
“We are all shocked and saddened at what has happened. Andrew was an ever-present parent, supporting his boys in their rugby development at the club. “As a community club we will support the family in any way we are able.”
Mr Priestley’s family said it was “heartbreakingly impossible” to imagine life without him.
A statement said: “The family of Andrew are devastated about his death in Australia. He died after saving his children.
“Andrew was the most amazing husband and father that any family could wish for. He adored his family and we adored him.
“The support and messages we have received have been overwhelming and we are thankful for that.
“It is heartbreakingly impossible at this moment to imagine our lives without him. We would ask that our privacy is respected at such a sad time.”
A statement from New South Wales Police Force said: “Emergency services were called to Burrill Beach just after midday, where they found a man unconscious.
“The 44-year-old was taken to Milton Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Officers from Shoalhaven Local Area Command attended and were told the man, a British tourist, got into difficulty after attempting to rescue his two sons who were caught in a rip. His sons were not injured.”
Mr Priestley was seven months into a new sales and marketing management role for I Holland in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire,
The firm’s managing director Chris Prideaux told the BBC yesterday: “His life was his family and his children, and if there’s one man who you’d expect to lay his life down for his children, it would be Andrew.
“He was excited about taking his children there [to Australia]. They’d got tickets for the cricket, I even got a text from him being there [at the cricket], because the first session was quite hopeful and I got this text saying ‘it could be allright’. That was the last time I heard from him.”
Speaking to BBC radio, the editor of The Milton Ulladulla Times, Glen Ellard, said surfers, sunbathers and paramedics battled for 40 minutes to try to resuscitate Mr Priestley when he was pulled from the water.
Mr Priestley had been enjoying a day at the beauty spot with his wife, two sons and a daughter, when he saw his boys in trouble, the editor said.
He said: “A person on a surf board went back and found him. They put him on a surf board and paddled back to the beach.
“One of the people who paddled him back was struggling and in danger himself.”
The beach is notorious for its strong rips, the editor added.
“It has quite a bad reputation, in fact there was a drowning just over a month ago at the same beach,” he said.
Rips form off Burrill Beach when the tide goes out and the nearby Burrill Lake drains, causing deep channels and fast currents, Mr Ellard told the BBC.
Kirrily Storey, the manager of Burrill Lake Tourist Park, ran to the beach and saw Mr Priestley being taken away by paramedics, said the Canberra Times.
“It was horrific. It was just one of those freak accidents,” she said. “He really did the right thing by swimming where there were other people. It was not a particularly rough day.
“They were just having fun in the surf. The tide was going out and there was a sandbank with waves crashing in. It is quite easy to slip off the sandbank.”
Mrs Storey told the newspaper she had spoken to several of those involved in the rescue, including the man who first made it to Mr Priestley, but they were too traumatised to recount their experiences.
“It has really devastated our little community. It was lucky the bystanders were there. It could have been a lot worse,” she added.
The Daily Mail reported Mrs Priestley’s father Terence Collins saying: “Amanda said that Andrew died saving the children. She said that he managed to lift them onto a surfboard and other people there pulled it onto the beach.
“But by the time they came back for Andrew he had been washed away by these terrible rip currents. His body was found face down in the water. He died a hero.’
Mrs Priestley’s sister Susan Collins said: “Andrew used all his energies to get the boys onto the surf board. He died a hero saving them.”
Mrs Priestley (43) was on the beach with their daughter Amelia (8) while her husband and sons went into the water.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that Mr Priestley had died.
He said the family, who have been offered consulate support, had been on holiday when then incident occurred.
The family are now back home in Harborough.
Story by Alex Blackwell
Follow Alex on Twitter, @BlackwellHarb.