An Iranian woman who drowned during an ill-fated journey across the Channel was a “very brave girl” who died trying to save her fellow passengers, a survivor from the boat has told Sky News.
Mitra Mehrad went missing in August after boarding a small dinghy of 19 migrants, including a young child and a baby, seeking a new life in the UK.
She is thought to be the first person to have died at sea while making the crossing from France and one of her friends has told Sky News of her brave efforts to help others on board.
Speaking for the first time about the journey, fellow passenger Ahmed Nadi has revealed how his friend dived into the water to try to reach a rescue rope from another boat as their vessel began to sink.
“Mitra was trying so hard to keep her head above the water,” he said.
“But the waves were so strong the current pulled her under. We watched Mitra with her arm outstretched screaming for help for 15 minutes.
“When we realised we couldn’t do anything to save her we couldn’t watch anymore,” he added.
“This girl was a very brave girl – and what she did, us men couldn’t do. We were not as brave as her. She did it to save the baby and in the end the baby survived.”
Ms Mehrad, 31, was desperate to reach the UK because of the dangerous political situation in Iran, which means even accomplished and educated professionals feel they cannot stay there.
She had a PhD in psychology and had reportedly arrived in Dunkirk on 6 August, three days before she went missing while crossing the Channel.
Ms Mehrad fell into the water with two other people during the crossing, both of whom were rescued.
Mr Nadi told Sky News: “We saw with our own eyes a human being drowning. We couldn’t do anything – there was nothing we could do. Fifteen men couldn’t save her.
“It was impossible. Some people on our dinghy fainted because they couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Mitra was just being taken further away from us by the waves.”
Her body was first spotted about 27 miles off Ramsgate, but search and recovery missions by the British and Belgian coastguards were quickly called off.
Survivors from the dinghy were medically assessed in Kent before being transferred to immigration officials, while police in the county started an investigation into the missing Ms Mehrad.
The force told Sky News it stopped its probe when Dutch police found a body in their waters.
Sky News understands the body was found on 18 August, about 12 miles off the port city of IJmuiden, and the police investigation there remains open.
In a statement, a Home Office spokesman said: “This was a tragic incident which resulted in needless loss of life.
“The Home Office will continue to liaise with other agencies as the investigation into this incident continues.
“Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about loss of life.
“We thank all the agencies at home and abroad who led the rescue attempt.”