A HEARTBROKEN daughter has told how her dying dad “used all his strength” to give his kids a final smile after rescuing them from a rip current.
Jonathan Stevens, 36, bravely dived into the sea in Barmouth, North Wales, yesterday afternoon when he heard his children’s screams.
The plasterer, known fondly as Joff, managed to get two of his kids to safety but tragically died in hospital after getting caught in the rip current.
His daughter Lauren, 11, has told how she rushed over to lifeguards and pleaded “my dad is drowning, please save him” as she watched the horror unfold in front of her and brother Joshua, four.
And she revealed harrowing moment her dad smiled for the last time after saving her sister Lacey, 12, and brother Jack, ten.
The youngster, speaking with the permission of mum Laura Burford, told The Sun Online: “They ran in to the water too and swam out to dad but by the time they got to him his head was just bobbing up and down in the water. He looked lifeless.
“They got to him pretty quickly and swam in with him being carried between them, then when they got close to the beach they put him on his feet. The water was waist high at this point.
“Dad opened his eyes and looked over to me, Joshua, and Lacey and Jack, who by now were back with us and he gave us a smile.
“But the next second he collapsed again and the lifeguards carried him in, laid him down on the sand and gave him CPR. He never opened his eyes again.
“I think Dad had used his last bit of strength to open his eyes and smile at us and when he saw we were all okay he knew he could let go and die happily.”
“Dad in a million” Jonathan was enjoying a day at the seaside with his children as temperatures soared across the country.
Both Lacey and Jack had a new body board they wanted to try out so he told them to stay in the shallow end while he returned to the sand to see Lauren and Joshua, who were sitting 25m away from the water’s edge.
But Lauren said just moments later, her sister began screaming – causing her dad to take off his t-shirt and trousters and rush into the sea.
She added: “I could see Lacey and Jack being swept out about 100m in just a few seconds.
“Jack was clinging to the body board and I think he had the string attached to his leg but they were being pulled out so fast.
“They’re both good swimmers but it kept pulling them under the water. Jack especially was really struggling and at one point he went under for about 10 seconds.
“Dad got to Lacey first and pushed her away from the current, then he went to Jack, who by now was another 50m further out.
“He got hold of him and shoved him out of the current too but I think it took all his strength because next thing dad disappeared under the water.”
The children’s mother Laura, who was at home in Telford when the horror unfolded, has now questioned why there weren’t warning signs in place on the beach about the strong current.
And the 34-year-old, who split with the “love of her life” a month ago after 16 years together, tragically revealed they were planning to make another go of it.
She had text Jonathan at about 1.30pm to see if the family were having a good time when Lauren called her back “in hysterics” to explain the horror that was unfolding on the packed beach.
Laura then posted a frantic message on Facebook saying her kids “were drowning in the sea” as she begged for help.
Speaking from her home today, she said: “Joff was the best dad in the world and he showed that by saving Lacie and Jack’s lives.
“He was the kind of man who would do anything for his children and if that meant sacrificing his own life for them that’s just what he would do.
“These kids meant the world to Joff and I owe him everything for saving them.
“If Joff hadn’t done what he did I’d be sitting here planning funerals for two of my kids now. It doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s literally given them his last breath.”
A GoFundMe page has now been set up to help the grieving family.
A North Wales Police spokesman said: “Police and the Coastguard were called at 1.58pm on Sunday to a report that a man had got into difficulty in the sea in Barmouth.
“The man was taken by air ambulance to Ysbyty Gwynedd, where he tragically died.”