Nfld. & Labrador

Father of 21-year-old student who fell into sea in N.L. recounts tragedy

Supul Jayasinghe, a 21-year-old Memorial University student and aspiring doctor, slipped off a rocky outcrop Wednesday evening while walking his dog and was carried into the open water, his father says.

Family of Supul Jayasinghe says he slipped into water from rocky coastline in just seconds

Don Jayasinghe stands near a search and rescue operation on Thursday afternoon in Flatrock, N.L., a day after his son, Supul, slipped on rocks near the water and fell in. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Supul Jayasinghe had just closed the books on his final exam at Memorial University. To celebrate, the 21-year-old biology student and his family strolled along the coast of Flatrock, N.L., Wednesday evening, soaking up the sun.

"We simply looked around [at] the sea," Don Jayasinghe, Supul's father, told CBC News on Thursday — at the very place where their outing took a tragic turn in a matter of seconds. 

Don Jayasinghe said his son was running after the family dog, Neo, when he slipped on the rocks and ended up in the water as his parents looked on.

"No, don't go, son, don't go there!" Jayasinghe recalled shouting.

He said his son was surprised when he ended up in the water and initially took the fall lightly. "But when he was trying to come out … whatever he touched, slipped," Jayasinghe said.

Supul tumbled in the waves as the current carried him farther out from shore. 

This photo of Supul Jayasinghe, sent to CBC by his family, was taken minutes before the young man slipped and fell into the water. (Submitted by Don Jayasinghe)

"I was following him, talking to him. And suddenly he understood it is difficult. He asked my help, 'Dad, help me,' " Jayasinghe said his son told him.

He tried to throw the dog's leash to Supul and nearly fell into the water himself. Jayasinghe said his son seemed to float, treading water as darkness fell.

Ten minutes later, Supul vanished.

'He's gone'

Supul's family expressed stoic acceptance of their loss while speaking openly to CBC Thursday about the ordeal.

"I am a Buddhist. So everything happens with a reason. So therefore I have the courage still to stand and talk to you," Jayasinghe said. "What has happened has happened … He's gone."

He described his son as a "very beautiful soul," a well-rounded young man who excelled at sports and in school. Supul volunteered and had aspirations in medicine, and according to his tearful mother, Chandima, he even earned a private pilot's licence and a write-up in the local paper when he was a teenager.

WATCH | Don Jayasinghe recounts the tragic accident that claimed his son:

Father describes tragic loss of son at Flatrock

CBC News Newfoundland

18 days ago
Don Jayasinghe tells CBC reporter Terry Roberts about watching his son, Supul, fall into the ocean 6:36

His father said Supul dreamed one day about joining Doctors Without Borders, travelling the world to help the sick, even talking about giving up his salary to locals who needed the money more.

"That's how he was ... All the time he was thinking [of] other people, not himself."

The Jayasinghe family moved to Canada from Sri Lanka to encourage that dream. They spent years in Ontario, then Alberta, before settling in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2017.

"So far," Jayasinghe said, "we don't have any idea what's next."

Standing near the shore that took his son, Jayasinghe implored others to stay vigilant near the icy water.

"Young people, please listen to your parents … Don't ignore their advice," he said firmly. "Because if our son heard our words — 'come back, come back, don't go there, don't go there' — he would have been still alive today."

Search suspended 

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said Friday it suspended its search at 3 p.m. NT, as weather conditions had deteriorated and made it unsafe to be on the water. 

A statement from Don and Chadima Jayasinghe provided to CBC News late Friday afternoon read, "Just wanted to say thank you to everyone that came out to the scene and helped with the search and to everyone who reached out and offered their condolences. We are extremely grateful for the community coming together in support of our son."

A helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander and a Canadian Coast Guard ship from St. John's had joined the RNC Wednesday night to search the area. 

Officers arrived in the Flatrock area around 8:15 p.m. NT, according to an RNC report, with the Cormorant helicopter arriving shortly afterward. They scoured the coastline and waters, at times using flares to illuminate the area.

The search for the 21-year-old Memorial University student continues Friday. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

By daybreak Thursday, both a Canadian Coast guard vessel and Zodiac were present at the scene, with a command centre from the Rovers Search and Rescue from Paradise also set up, searching throughout the day.

On Friday, a Sikorsky S-92 from the nearby Cougar Helicopters air base had volunteered for the search, but did not find anything. 

RNC Const. James Cadigan said hikers and boaters in the area are being asked to keep an eye on the water, and to contact police immediately if they see anything.

As of Friday morning, rescuers hadn't yet deemed the operation a recovery mission. If that happens, and if a body is eventually found, the family says it won't change how they feel.

"It doesn't return our son," Jayasinghe said. "Our son is gone forever."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador