The parents of three British children involved in a fatal parasailing incident in Greece have said the teenagers “had a tight-knit bond”.
Cousins Michael Connelly (known as Mikey), 13, and Jessica Hayes, 15, from Northamptonshire, died on Wednesday after their parachute rope snapped.
Michael’s brother James, 15, remains in hospital.
Jessica’s father Tony Hayes said: “They were cousins, but they were closer than most.”
Mr Hayes said two people arrested over the incident had been charged with manslaughter by way of negligence.
The 38-year-old said as soon as the families arrived at their hotel on the island of Rhodes on 24 October, Mikey said he had “always wanted” to try parasailing.
On 28 October the three cousins boarded a boat with other holidaymakers after the family were told it was suitable for anyone over the age of three, Mr Hayes said.
“We’ve since learned that in Greece you should be 16 to take part,” he said.
Both sets of parents watched as the boat set off with Jessica, James and Mikey on board.
Due to a change in weather, the boat took a different route to usual and “went out of sight”, Mr Hayes said.
“We waited for them on the beach and they never came back.”
As the weather worsened, Mr Hayes took Jessica’s younger sister back to their room while her mother, Kayleigh Hayes, stayed on the beach with Mikey and James’s parents Philip and Sharon Connelly.
“My wife phoned me and said ‘the boat’s come back and they’re not on it – we’ve been told there’s been a terrible accident’,” Mr Hayes said.
The teacher said the families waited for about an hour before they were told their children were in hospital.
Mr and Mrs Connelly travelled in a taxi with Mrs Hayes to the hospital while Mr Hayes stayed at the hotel with their younger daughter.
“They got to the hospital and the children weren’t there,” he said.
Mr Hayes said the families were at first told James was in the most serious condition and Jessica and Mikey “were being treated for smaller injuries like bone breaks”.
“They saw James arrive and he was in pain and screaming. They were extremely upset,” he said.
Police officers came to the hotel to collect the children’s passports but did not tell Mr Hayes what had happened.
“I said ‘where are Jessica and Mikey? What hospital are they in? Are they alive?’ But they said they couldn’t tell me.”
Mr Hayes said it was hours before they were informed Jessica and Mikey had died.
“I told my youngest that Mikey and Jessica had gone to heaven. She let out the worse cry you can imagine.”
James remains in hospital in an induced coma but is said to be in a stable condition.
“Our main focus is James. We desperately want James to get better,” Mr Hayes said.
He said the three children “were so close” and would see each other every day.
Mikey and James’s parents echoed this sentiment and said the cousins “had a tight-knit bond since they were in nappies”.
Mr and Mrs Connelly described James as “the most perfect son”.
“He is in a dark place just now but with the support and prayer being offered and his medical care I’m confident he’ll pull through,” Mr Connelly said.
“He’ll wake up to find his brother and cousin in eternal rest; it will devastate him like it has us.”
The 42-year-old described Mikey as a “confident, intelligent, generous and loving young man”.
“His loss will affect many lives,” he said.
The 13-year-old was a member of Genesis Theatre School in Corby and had recently been signed by an agency.
“His talents were obvious from an early age; he was destined for greatness and was on his way to the top. He will always be our star,” his father said.
“He goes together with his cousin Jessica. A beautiful young lady of many talents.
“I’ve never known a brighter child. She’d grown into an intelligent student and, as James, would have smashed her exams with ease but her chance to shine has been taken from her.”
My Hayes described his daughter as “stunningly beautiful, such a good friend and so creative”.
“She brought laughter and joy to many people, she didn’t take herself seriously all of the time but she loved a good debate,” he said.
“She was perfect.”
The families said the support and generosity from people in Northamptonshire and further afield had been “amazing”.
“The kindness and warmth of people has given us a sense of strength we didn’t have before,” they said.