A former soldier and father-of-three who died in a paddle boarding accident on a river in west Wales lost his life after jumping into the water to save two women in distress, it has been claimed.
Paul O’Dwyer was pronounced dead on the banks of the Cleddau river in Haverfordwest on Saturday.
Two women were also pronounced dead at the scene, and another woman remains in a critical condition in the ICU of Withybush Hospital.
A further five people were pulled out of the river by the emergency services uninjured.
The group of nine from the South Wales Paddle Boarders and Salty Dog Co, an organisation based in Port Talbot, were on a weekend away together exploring the river.
One of the paddle boarders who was on the trip, Vickie Mckinven from Milford Haven, said Mr O’Dwyer had died attempting to rescue two fellow paddleboarders who had got into difficulty near the weir.
Ms Mckinven said: “Paul did lose his life attempting to save two of the girls also in distress due to an unexpected downpour.
“Absolutely heartbreaking, was all good friends.
“And did so much to raise money for charities.”
Ms Mckinven said she had pulled out of the morning paddle because she was concerned about the weather conditions.
Mr O’Dwyer was an ex-soldier and had served with The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers 108 Welsh Squadron militia.
Paul O’Dwyer, 42, died along with two women after the early morning paddle boarding session
Trustee, business partner and best friend Lee West said: “We’ve been best friends for 22 years. We met in the military and he was one of those people you just clicked with.
“We had the same sense of humour, the same sense of adventure and we hit it off straight from the start. I was best man at his wedding and we both went to New York together a couple of years ago to celebrate our 40th birthdays.
“He was great fun. He’d be like your corny uncle in the corner, with his corny jokes. He resigned as director of Copr Bar because he had other obligations but we would still meet up. We have a walking club and we’d go on that and he’d bring his children along. He always put them first.
“I had only messaged Paul yesterday about meeting up to talk about charity plans after lockdown. It’s hard to believe that I will not now ever get a reply from him or go on our crazy adventures.
“Paul enjoyed SUPing (stand-up paddle-boarding) and had been on an instructors’ course and was going along on that excursion. He was physically fit – he’d done an Ironman and he was a former lifeguard, so he was a very good swimmer. He was just a genuine lovely, lovely man”.
Just over a week ago Mr O’Dwyer had taken part in a 24-hour paddle boarding marathon on the Wye with two friends, raising more than £4,000 for Heart Screening in Wales to detect heart abnormalities early.
In a social media post earlier this month about the challenge he wrote: “I’ve run 100 miles, I’ve crossed the English channel at night unsupported in a 9ft dinghy, however, paddling 100 miles in 24 hours on my SUP is taking things to the next level. Heart screening can save so many lives each year it’s unthinkable. I think we all know someone who has been taken too soon, maybe a close friend or family member”.
But it was only the latest in a long line of fund-raisers he had undertaken.
In 2016, with Lee, Mr O’Dwyer cycled from Swansea to London sleeping rough along the way to raise awareness of homelessness.
The pair did the same event the following year – and then tackled the London Marathon to raise cash for military charity SSAFA – formerly the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association. The pair also ran their own charity project Trampface.
At Copr Bar on Castle Street, where the former Royal Engineer Paul O’Dwyer and marine Lee started a ‘Pay Forward’ initiative for local homeless people, they also provided free beer to former servicemen on Remembrance Sunday in 2019.
On Sunday, Copr bar shared the fundraiser and said its “former director has tragically passed”.
Salty Dog Co, a surf clothing business in Aberavon, tweeted: “It is with heavy heart that we say goodbye to our salty dog Paul. A lovely human being taken too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with your friends and family. You will be missed greatly”.
In a statement shared online, Aberavon Green Stars FC said: “It’s been a horrendous 48 hours for our town, a weekend where we’ve lost some our finest. Paul O’Dwyer, where do we begin? Everything the man did was for the benefit and betterment of others, he really did make the world a better place and has left a legacy of inspiration and hope to those who perhaps didn’t realise they needed it. You’ll be sorely missed by all, Brother.”
In a Facebook post, Neath Port Talbot gym Vitality Health & Fitness said: “It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we learn of the passing of one of our founders Paul O’Dwyer, following a tragic incident in West Wales. Words cannot express the feeling of loss our community is feeling today as the town mourns one of life’s unique characters. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones. You’ll be forever missed Rounds.”