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One year on: The triple-drowning tragedy that struck a family holiday in Spain

Inspection of the Mijas pool where the drownings happened.
Inspection of the Mijas pool where the drownings happened. / FERNANDO TORRES
  • They came to spend Christmas on the Costa del Sol but they did not all return home together

They came to Mijas to spend a family Christmas together. The chosen destination was the Club La Costa World on Spain's Costa del Sol.

It was December, but the spring-like temperature was inviting them to swim. Three siblings put on their swimsuits to dive into the pool. The little girl, aged nine, and the oldest (16) couldn't get out. Neither did their father, Gabriel Diya, who drowned trying to rescue them.

The incident which happened on the morning of Christmas Eve 2019 shocked Spain and the United Kingdom, where the family was from.

A year later, the judicial investigation has stalled.

An independent investigation was called for by Gabriel’s widow and mother of the two deceased children, Olubunmi Diya, who rejected from the beginning the official version that the three deaths occurred due to "the lack of expertise of the victims in the water". She has always maintained that her children had taken swimming lessons at school.

The court in Fuengirola authorised a first inspection of the pool, carried out by a group of experts commissioned by the legal representatives of the widow. This review was carried out on 10 February, 2020 and, although the experts drew some conclusions about the swimming pool installation, they informed the family that a second visit to the complex was necessary to expand their report and clarify certain aspects of it.

The family lawyer submitted a letter requesting a new inspection, this time with an empty pool, but the judge rejected the request. Lawyers appealed the judge's decision saying that this review is key, in the family's opinion, to clarify the circumstances surrounding the events that could have contributed to the fatal outcome.

During the official investigation, the Guardia Civil investigators carried out a detailed inspection of the scene and they requested the help of an underwater team.

Swimming cap

At the poolside they found all the life-saving floats in position except one that had been removed and was floating on the pool.

The officers then inspected the pump room. "Upon the arrival of the officers, the suction and surface systems were in operation," the report states.

The call to the divers was made when they observed that at the bottom of the pool, next to the main suction point, there was a garment of the same colour as the swimsuit of the youngest of the victims.

When the officers recovered it, they saw that it was a swimming cap with the name of the deceased child written on the label.

Among other data collected, the divers measured the depth of the swimming pool, which was two metres at the deepest point area as indicated by the signs. In addition, a water temperature of 16C was recorded.

The divers found no odour or taste in the water to indicate the presence of abnormal chemicals or substances.

However, the family has always insisted that "something strange" happened in the pool.

The account of what happened that day comes from the only two witnesses to the events: the mother (49) and her middle daughter (14) who survived.

The teenager explained that, after praying in the apartment, they all went down to the pool, but that her parents stayed out of the water, in the garden area, and that both she and her siblings decided to swim. It was not windy and it was "very sunny." The water was cold, but "it could be tolerated," she told investigators.

Her statement suggests that the shape of the pool - deeper in the centre than at the edges - could have influenced the outcome. She also stated that the unevenness of the bottom "made them slide" towards the central (deepest) part.

"I realised that I was not standing, I got scared and with some difficulty I managed to get out”. She heard her brother calling for help. Both he and the little girl were struggling to stay afloat. Then she saw his father quickly take off his trousers and jump into the water to help her siblings.

When the police officers asked if the victims knew how to swim, the teen maintained that both she and her brothers had been given swimming lessons at school, but that they had never bathed in the sea or in pools where they could not stand.

The mother and daughter said that resort employees had told them that the pool was open.

"In fact," said the mother, "they gave me a map where they indicated the places we could enjoy and pointed out the pool as one of them."

Both claimed: "If there had been a lifeguard, this would not have happened."