The family of a man who drowned in a Scottish loch while trying to save his 7-year-old son say they want his children to know their father is a “hero” and “the brother every sister would want to have”.
Asim Riaz, 41, died in Loch Lomond on Saturday, along with a friend Edina Olahova and her 9-year-old son Rana Haris Ali.
The accident happened after Mr Riaz’s seven-year-old son Ibrahim and his friend Rana went into the waters of the lake while on holiday but found it was much deeper than expected and got into trouble.
Iqra Riaz, Mr Riaz’s sister, told The Independent her brother had leapt into the water to try and save the youngsters but sadly himself then drowned.
“He was a father who would do whatever it takes to save his son, or even someone else,” she said from Lahore in Pakistan, where the family is originally from. “We are very proud of him.
“I want my sister-in-law, my parents, my nephews to know that their father is a hero. He died trying to save him. He would do that a thousand times, even if he knew what was going to happen, again and again for his kids because he loved them dearly.”
Ibrahim was rescued from the loch by a passing stranger and was rushed to hospital where he spent several days on a ventilator in intensive care.
Ms Riaz said she had been told Ibrahim – whom she described as an “adorable” miniature version of his father – was now recovering and had opened his eyes.
“We are so happy that our nephew is safe. I have no clue how he is holding up, but they told us he cried a lot.”
Mr Riaz, the only son of a family with five daughters, moved from Pakistan to London 18 years ago in the hopes of finding better work, his sister said.
As the only son he felt responsible for giving his parents a better future, Ms Riaz explained, so he “sacrificed the golden years of his life” and left his family behind to move to the UK.
After struggling through a series of low-paying jobs in London and having to abandon his studies, things turned around when he married his wife and moved to Glasgow in 2011.
“She was caring and loved him dearly, and gave him two beautiful sons,” Ms Riaz said. The family went through hard times during the pandemic when Mr Riaz lost his job as an Uber driver and was forced to find part-time work in a restaurant and selling medical supplies online.
Ms Riaz said the family had planned a trip to the Isle of Skye with some close friends as a pick-me-up after the difficulties of Covid.
“My sister-in-law said that he was so happy, he was so excited about everything. He said they were going to make the most of it and enjoy every single second.”
On their way back, the two families decided to break up the drive by stopping at Loch Lomond.
“While he was driving his youngest son was kissing him and saying ‘Daddy, I love you’ and he would say every time ‘I love you too baby’. It was just so beautiful that day.”
But within moments of parking, the children rushed into the waters of the lake and quickly got into difficulty. After Ms Riaz also began to drown while trying to save them, a man nearby plunged into the loch and managed to rescue Ibrahim but was too exhausted to go back for the others.
“There was this guy, I don’t know who was this angel and how he came from, but he jumped in the water and he saved our nephew. My sister-in-law begged him, again and again ‘Please save my husband’ but he did not have the energy to go back. He could only save one.”
Ms Riaz said her whole family was nevertheless keen to find and thank the mystery lifesaver, who they were “forever in debt to for what he did for my nephew”.
But the pain of losing Mr Riaz would take a long time to heal, she added. “We loved him all dearly. He was an amazing person. He was the brother that every sister would wish to have.
“I was trying to sleep yesterday but I couldn’t, I kept seeing his face,” she said, choking back tears. “Yes, it’s going to be very hard but I keep telling myself he’s not dead, he’s with us, he’s looking at us.”
She also called on the Scottish government to make greater efforts to stop more deaths in lakes, after the worst weekend for water deaths in Scotland in living memory.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said six people died last weekend, half of whom were boys under 15, and there had been 31 accidental deaths in open water in just the past week.
“This lake is dangerous, although it’s beautiful,” Ms Riaz said. There should be some signs, some lifeguards, some restrictions which tell people this water is not just beautiful but dangerous.”