A trawlerman who spotted a 52-year-old Whitby man in the harbour minutes before he died has spoken of his sadness at not being able to save him.
Swimmer Neil Laity was seen by Mark and James Cole of the fishing vessel Progress at around 5am on Wednesday.
Concerned for his safety, Mark contacted the Whitby Harbour watch manager who trained the harbour’s CCTV cameras on the man. The watch manager put out an appeal for smaller vessels to reach the swimmer.
However, when the fishing coble Quest arrived on the scene, Mr Laity was already floating face down in the water.
Mark Cole said: “It’s pretty upsetting for me and James because we could have saved him. It’s very sad, especially when we saw him swimming about.”
The trawlermen spotted Mr Laity swimming in the lower harbour, near the Duke of York and said there was no suggestion he was in any danger.
Mr Cole added: “We thought it was a bit strange, going for an early morning swim.
“I never usually see people in the water at that time.
“But he was swimming about when I saw him and the watch keeper said he was going to keep an eye on him, so we just left it in their hands.
“If we thought he was in serious danger, we would have got him.”
Leaving the swimmer behind, the fishermen continued out to sea.
They remained in radio contact and Mr Cole said he was shocked to hear the man had died.
He said: “It came on the radio and they said the man was upside down in the water.
“They called one of the local cobles but he said he couldn’t get to him because of the draft of the boat.
“It was really upsetting for us to hear.”
A spokesperson for the borough council said the harbour watch manager and emergency services could not have done more to save Mr Laity.
When the harbour staff were told he was in the harbour, the police were immediately contacted.
The spokesperson said: “We actually reacted before the incident happened because we thought it was unusual, so we called the relevant authorities.”
Mr Laity’s death is unusual as the CCTV footage appears not to show him struggling - as he would if he became tangled underwater and was in trouble.
He was also said to regularly go for swims in the harbour.
He had undressed prior to getting into the water and his clothes were found nearby.
Police officers who attended the scene found Mr Laity, described as heavily-tattooed, floating face down in the water near to the RNLI lifeboat station.
An inshore lifeboat crew recovered the man’s body from the water but he was pronounced dead by paramedics.
Whitby RNLI coxswain Mike Russell said: “He was brought back to the boathouse and the paramedics have tried to resuscitate him, but sadly it was too late.”
Police say they are satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the man’s death.
In 2005 Jeff Muse, 31, drowned in the harbour attempting to stop a boat that was floating out to sea.