Wife died as holiday pair hit by mudslide

The husband of a woman killed on a walking holiday in Madeira has described how he thought he was going to die as he was swept away by a mudslide.

George Gaines was on a week's holiday on the island with his 53-year-old wife Pamela when tragedy struck in February, a coroner was told.

The devoted husband and wife from Garton on the Wolds in East Yorkshire were travelling in a taxi with another British couple when their vehicle was hit by the mudslide following days of torrential rain.

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Mr Gaines, 54, said their taxi was initially struck by a 4x4 vehicle and a tree before it was engulfed by mud and rocks.

He said the driver, who was also killed in the tragedy, told the group to get out of the Mercedes as it would be safer.

Mr Gaines was trying to lead his wife of 35 years to a patch of safe ground when he felt the wall of mud hit the back of his knees and knock him off his feet.

He said he spotted a dry area on the roadside where he led his wife, believing it to be the safest option.

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He told the inquest how he frantically tried to grab hold of bushes as he was swept away.

"There was a lot of debris coming down, cars had been washed down the road. There was a lot of trees and rocks.

"But there was a dry area and I thought if we could get there we could assess the situation.

"I put my wife on the bank and then I was hit behind my knees.

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"I didn't realise at the time there was a road going off to the left, and there was one going off to the right.

"The whole bank between these two roads was coming towards us, I got hit.

"I tried to stop myself by grabbing hold of bushes.

"I was going very quickly. I got out of the flow into a car park. I stuck my arm out to stop myself," he said.

"I thought if I didn't stop I was going to die."

Mr Gaines managed to save himself by grabbing hold of a car –possibly by the headlight or wheel arch – which was being swept down the road, Hull Coroner's Court heard.

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Mr Gaines described how he was swept away by the mudslide as his wife remained on the bank, and was carried with such force that it tore the soles from his walking boots.

Passers-by found him and he was taken to hospital suffering from cuts. Later, he was told that his wife's body had been found.

The other couple in the car, Roger and Gillian Wilson, were also rescued.

The group was being driven to a hotel near the capital Funchal when the tragedy struck.

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Torrential rain forced the taxi driver to try to make his way back up to the hotel they had just left.

The inquest heard Mr and Mrs Gaines were teenage sweethearts and had three sons.

The couple met at Driffield School in their late teens and were married by Mr Gaines' father, who was the vicar at Lowthorpe, in September 1975.

Coroner Geoff Saul was told Mrs Gaines, a nursery supervisor, died as a result of drowning, despite initial reports from a pathologist in Portugal indicating she died as a result of head injuries

Mr Saul recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Island's worst tragedy for 100 years

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More than 40 people, including a baby, were killed and over 100 injured in the mudslides and flooding that caused widespread destruction in Madeira's worst tragedy for 100 years.

The city of Funchal was heavily damaged in the landslides as mud and water gushed down the streets over cars and buildings.

Communications were seriously disrupted across the island, bridges were washed away, and one man saw his family swept off by the waters.

Hundreds were left homeless on the Portuguese island, which is popular with pensioners and UK holidaymakers, and the government declared three days of national mourning.