THE HEARTBROKEN family of a young Limerick man who drowned in a jet ski accident have revealed how some bystanders filmed him struggling for his life and posted his final moments across social media.
Sandra Byrnes, foster mother to Wassiou Leon Ayawe (19), has organised a fundraiser for the Killaloe Coast Guard and dive teams in the hope that another’s life can be saved.
Wassiou drowned after the jet ski he was travelling on in the water at Killaloe flipped over on Wednesday May 31 last.
Speaking to the Limerick Post about the tragedy that shook the young man’s family, Sandra said they were “stunned” in the days following the tragedy to see footage appear on TikTok of Wassiou’s struggle in the water.
“What kind of person films someone drowning instead of doing something? Or even throwing a lifebouy? And then to share that on social media? Did they even think how that would make his family feel?”
Sandra managed to have the content taken down, but she said there are many things about the tragedy which continue to haunt her.
“He had bought the jet ski just the day before. We went out to Killaloe with him, to the same spot on the Tuesday, for him to try it out. I was meant to drop him off and come home but something told me to stay and I took lots of pictures. We had a lovely evening and made some beautiful memories.”
On the day of the accident, Sandra says she was at work as a health-care assistant with the HSE when Wassiou called and asked if he could collect the keys to the jet ski, which were in her car.
“He wasn’t meant to go out on the water that day. We were planning to bring the jet ski up to the coast at the weekend and there were a lot of complications about how he was going to get the ski to Killaloe.
“I told him I had a bad feeling about it and asked him to wait, but he was just impatient to have another go. The last words I spoke to him were to tell him to stay safe. A few hours later, he was dead.”
Sandra explained that while her foster son had originally been wearing a life jacket, he had taken it off to give to a girl he had met in Killaloe that day and asked for a ride on the jet ski.
“She fell into the water at the start and he took off the jacket and gave it to her. He told her it was ok, that he could swim.
“I believe the turbines were switched on at the power station and that created a current. The jet ski hit a wave and flipped over.”
A soccer player with Limerick FC and Pike Rovers and a tipped talent, Wassiou “loved his football. If his team were scoring a goal, nothing else in the world mattered.”
Sandra had the tragic task of identifying the young man, who she affectionately called her “first brown boy”, after he was taken from the water.
“It’s something I will never forget. But he looked beautiful. It was just as though he was asleep.”
It was not the first drowning tragedy to visit Sandra as her daughter, Yasmin-Lee Williams (24), died by suicide in 2019.
“I wanted to raise money for the search and rescue and the divers because they brought him up and they also brought my Yasmin up.”
Sandra is also campaigning to have lifesaving equipment placed behind glass at the riverside location.
A fundraising soccer tournament is set for Sunday July 9 at the Pike Rovers grounds in Limerick and Sandra and her family are asking people to buy lines at €10 and to come along.
“I have been given so many prizes, from beauty vouchers to butchers vouchers – I couldn’t count the number of businesses and people who have donated prizes and they will all be raffled on the day.”
There will also be free burgers, ice cream, and tea and coffee on the grounds.
“If we can raise money that will help to save even one life then something good will have come from this tragedy,” Sandra said.
To buy a line or enter a team in the six-a-side tournament, contact Pike Rovers on 087 708 7031 or 087 173 6263.