Friends of a British woman who died swimming the English Channel for charity soon realised something had gone wrong when her online progress tracker stopped updating.
Susan Taylor, 34, collapsed suddenly as she neared the end of her 21-mile swim yesterday.
Mrs Taylor, from Barwell, Leicestershire, was airlifted to a French hospital where she died.
Friends were following her progress on her Facebook and leaving encouraging comments for her support team to pass on when they noticed the tracker had paused.
About 6pm, one friend wrote: ‘The track has had a blip I hope…’ before adding: ‘Now I am concerned. Two points showing travel as fast as a boat… Oh Susan I do hope everything is ok.’
An hour later, another added: ‘Getting very nervous now, hope Susan is OK.’
Concerned friends added messages and continued to show support for Mrs Taylor – nicknamed ‘Nemo’ after the Disney Pixar character – while pleading for information.
‘Hope all is ok??? Tracker has stopped!!! Susan you are a star xxx,’ one wrote while another added: ‘Can’t get update but you are an amazing athlete & fund-raiser no matter what. Good on you Susan x x’
Mrs Taylor, whose husband Stephen, 43, was on the support boat, was just a mile from the coast of France when she became ill on Sunday afternoon.
A French Navy helicopter flew her to hospital in Boulogne-sur-Mer but she was declared dead at around 7pm.
She had set off from the UK in the early hours of Sunday morning and was raising money for Diabetes UK and the Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough.
Mrs Taylor, 34, had been an ambassador for the Rainbows Children’s Hospice for two years
Mrs Taylor, ran her own accountancy firm, was swimming alongside a support boat and had temporarily given up work to train for the gruelling swim across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
But as she entered Wissant Bay, near Cap Gris-Nez, she got into ‘serious difficulty’, said a French police source.
Mrs Taylor’s support crew, which included her paramedic brother, requested a defibrillator by radio, and the French Navy evacuated her to hospital in Boulogne.
Speaking at the family home today, Mrs Taylor’s father, 68-year-old Arthur Wright, said: ‘I’m devastated. I’ve lost the best person in the world. She was just wonderful.’
Mr Wright said his daughter had also done wing-walking and a parachute jump, and was a qualified rally driver.
‘She was certainly not a boring accountant,’ he said.
Mr Wright revealed that his paramedic son David battled to save her life.
‘David was with her and he was the paramedic, he tried to help.
‘He pulled her on to the boat.’
Also on the boat were her coach, who had trained her since she was eight years old, and a support swimmer.
Mr Wright said he had been told the accident happened during the last leg of the swim.
‘She had swum 30 miles and she got to the last part and that’s when it happened. That’s as much as I know.
‘They got her out the water and put her on the boat.’
The family had celebrated Mrs Taylor’s birthday and her brother’s birthday at a restaurant last Thursday, he said.
He last saw his daughter on Friday night.
‘I saw her to say I hope it goes well and gave her a kiss.’
Today, her brother wrote on the Facebook page: ‘Whilst attempting to swim the English Channel yesterday my sister, Susan collapsed suddenly in the water.
‘She was immediately recovered from the water and treated on the support boat. She was then air lifted by helicopter to a hospital in Boulogne.
‘Susan tragically passed away. Thank you for your messages of support.
‘If you would like to leave a sign of respect please feel free to donate to her fund raising page.’
As news of her death spread, wellwishers began to give money in Mrs Taylor’s memory in addition to the £2,700 she had already raised.
More than £8,000 has been given on her Virgin Money Giving page for Rainbows, which relies almost entirely on donations, and Diabetes UK.
Neighbours of Mrs Taylor paid tribute to her today in the quiet cul-de-sac where she lived with her electrician husband.
David Kitto, 63, said she was a ‘truly lovely girl’ who was well known for her swimming and charity work.
Describing her training, which she used to do at nearby Hinckley Leisure Centre, Stoney Stanton Lakes, and Bosworth Water Park, he said she was not anxious about the swim.
An online map tracking Ms Taylor’s progress appeared to show that her support boat had suddenly sped up and sailed in a different direction towards land
‘She was very, very confident,’ he said.
‘She was a confident person anyway. She had a real presence about her. She was not a shrinking violet but nor was she hogging the front pages all the time.
‘She was a very good swimmer; you used to see her going up and down in the fast lane at the pool and all the staff there knew her and got to know what she was doing.
‘I’m just gobsmacked. She was a truly lovely girl and this is an absolute tragedy.’
Mr Kitto said Mrs Taylor, who went to junior school with his daughter, and her husband had lived in Barwell for more than ten years and married around six years ago.
Many of their neighbours were invited to their evening wedding reception at Ashby Road Sports Club.
Neighbours said Mrs Taylor was very sporty and used to do a lot of kayaking and mountain biking.
They also thought she and her husband had been involved in rally car driving for a period of time.
Geoff Ellis, Rainbows chief executive, said: ‘Susan was a wonderful woman who would do anything for anybody.
Ms Taylor’s progress team posted this picture during her swim, writing: ‘Easy way versus the hard way!!!!! Susan definitely deserves the easy way next time!!! She’s doing fab :)’
‘She has been a much loved ambassador at Rainbows for over two years, helping out at events and tirelessly fundraising for us.
‘She was more than an ambassador; she was part of the Rainbows family.
‘Susan was totally dedicated to Rainbows, even taking time off from her career to devote more efforts to her fundraising.
‘She was really looking forward to taking part in her challenge and we are all so proud of what she achieved.
‘All of the children, young people, families, staff and volunteers at Rainbows are devastated and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.
‘She will be sadly missed.’
On her Virgin Money Giving fundraising page Mrs Taylor said she was taking on a challenge ‘tougher than Everest’.
She said: ‘I am self funding the swim so every penny donated will go to Rainbows and the amazing work they do.
‘Less than 1,000 people have completed the 21-mile cross-Channel swim, whereas over 3,000 have conquered the world’s tallest mountain.
‘Only one in ten people who train for the channel actually complete it.
‘As part of the challenge you are not allowed to wear anything that aids buoyancy or warmth.
‘However, I will be accompanied by a support boat to ensure I stay out of trouble.’
Mrs Taylor had set off at about 1am on Sunday from Samphire Hoe near Dover and was covered in goose fat in expectation of a swim of around 15 hours.
It was an extremely hot day with the water temperature at 15C.
Last year, Mrs Taylor told the Leicester Mercury she would be facing her childhood fear of jellyfish when she swam in a relay team of six across the Channel.
She trained for the challenge in open water at lakes in Market Bosworth and Six Hills in Leicestershire, with her husband Stephen kayaking beside her, the report said.
Before her solo attempt she told the paper that her training had been delayed a little by a shoulder injury and that she had put herself ‘through hell’ training over the last year.
Ms Taylor set off from Samphire Hoe, near Dover, at 1am on Sunday morning and was airlifted by the French navy near Cap Gris-Nez 16 hours later
The report said Mrs Taylor would be swimming in indoor pools and the Water Trust lakes at Market Bosworth for up to eight hours non-stop as part of her final training sessions.
She said: ‘The injury won’t put me back too much and I plan to be back in the lake in a few weeks’ time.
‘It’s a lot different in the Channel, though. You’ve got the waves and the salt water and it will be about twice as far as I’ve ever swum before.’
Before the swim, Mrs Taylor had told the Hinckley Times: ‘I used to be with the St John Ambulance and I met a woman who said to me “you’ll swim the Channel one day”’.
Kevin Murphy, secretary of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, which authorises attempts to cross the water, said: ‘It is incredibly sad. People in our organisation knew her.
‘She had been our friend on the beach training in Dover and everyone’s cut up about it because she was such a lovely, nice lady.’
British officials had authorised a number of charity swimmers to cross the Channel on Sunday.
France does not allow such swims to start from its own side of the Channel because of the dangers posed by shipping, as well as dangerous currents and changing weather conditions.
Mr Murphy said: ‘We require medicals signed by a doctor and we both require swims of at least six hours before we will register anyone to swim the Channel.
Cap Gris-Nez, pictured, traditionally marks the finish point for swimmers attempting the crossing
‘It’s an extreme sport. We know it’s an extreme sport but its safety record is second to none.’
Until yesterday, only seven people had died since Captain Matthew Webb made the first unassisted swim across the Strait of Dover in 1875.
The last swimmer to die before Mrs Taylor was Paraic Casey, a 45-year-old member of the Sandycove Swimming Club in Cork, Ireland, almost exactly a year ago, on July 21 2012.
Like Ms Taylor, Mr Casey became ill less than a mile from the French coast, and all attempts to resuscitate him failed.
A friend of Mrs Taylor, who asked not to be named, said today: ‘We are devastated by Susan’s death. She was a wonderful person who was determined to swim the Channel so as to help others.’