The inquest of Plamen Petkov was held at Chichester Magistrates’ Court today.
Mr Petkov, 32, died on May 26 saving the life of five-year-old Darleen whose inflatable ring drifted out to sea.
The inquest heard Darleen had been playing with her sister and mother on the water’s edge when a strong wind blew the inflatable she was sitting in away from her mother’s reach.
Her mother, San Thidar Myint, made repeated attempts to grab the ring but it was quickly swept further along the beach and out to sea by strong currents.
“It happened very quickly,” said Mrs San.
“She thought it was funny at first because Mummy’s chasing her but then the water was getting deeper and deeper, and it’s up to my neck and I start panicking and calling for help.”
Mr Petkov was walking along the beach with his friend Stefan Mayorov, when he heard Mrs San’s calls.
He waded into the water and swam to help Darleen.
Mr Mayorov and another beach-goer, Nikki Howkins, followed.
By the time they arrived, Darleen was out of the ring but Mr Petkov was struggling in the water.
Mr Mayorov gave the girl to Miss Howkins.
Miss Howkins cried as she told the inquest how she had to make a choice between getting the ‘terrified’ child back to shore and helping Mr Petkov.
“I had to choose and I couldn’t save Plamen,” she said.
Mr Mayorov struggled to keep his friend’s head above water and gradually managed to drag him back to shore, helped by another swimmer and Miss Howkins, once she had returned Darleen to her mother.
Miss Howkins, an operating department practioner, was joined in her resuscitation efforts by her partner, lifeguards and first responders before ambulance crews arrived but Mr Petkov was announced dead at the scene.
Paying tribute to Mr Petkov, Mrs San said: “He was a very brave man. If he didn’t go and get my daughter I would have lost her forever.”
Her husband, San Thone Thia, said: “I am very grateful to the very brave man who saved my daughter’s life and he will always be remembered.”
Recording a verdict of accidental death, assistant deputy coroner Joe Turner said Mr Petkov had shown ‘extraordinary bravery’ in going to rescue Darleen.
“With no regard for his own safety he dived in and, while saving her life, he became exhausted and tragically drowned,” he said.
Mr Turner also praised the ‘wonderful courage and lack of self regard’ shown by Mr Mayorov and Miss Howkins.
Mr Petkov’s family were not present at the inquest.