A Russian fitness coach’s rescue attempt of a friend trapped in churning Mediterranean waters turned deadly after both were swept out to sea—as the entire tragedy unfolded on video, captured by the coach’s distressed wife.
The horrifying footage subsequently went viral on Russian social media, even as the coach’s family has been scrambling to secure permission to travel to Spain for his cremation.
On Sept. 23, Daniil Gagarin, 30, traveled to a stretch of jagged cliffs known as La Zorra cove along the Costa Blanca with his wife, Darya Gagarina, and a woman they were friendly with, Finnish fitness instructor Emma Mönkkönen.
The video that Gagarina, 24, shot had been meant to capture the group’s cliff-diving feats. Instead, it became a terrifying chronicle of Gagarin and Mönkkönen’s final moments.
In it, the 24-year-old Mönkkönen can be seen launching herself off a cliffside into the rough sea below. Her attempt to clamber out of the water is interrupted by a monster wave, which rips her off the rocks.
Gagarina, holding the camera, swears multiple times in Russian. Gagarin reassures her that he’ll rescue Mönkkönen. He jumps into the ocean and struggles over to the Finn, somehow managing to propel both of them onto a rock as the waves crash around them.
At one point, Gagarina appears to climb down to the waterline, extending a hand and saying, “Danila, I’m coming!” and “Hold on to her!”
The rescue attempt goes sour quickly. The waves rise, and in the footage Darya can be heard pulling back and screaming in Russian, “A huge wave is coming... Fuck! Hold her!”
When the wave recedes, pulling Gagarin and Mönkkönen from view, Darya shrieks out, crying, “Danny! Fuck! Danila, no!”
Mönkkönen’s body was pulled out of the water nearly two miles away. Gagarin’s was recovered the following day by a search-and-rescue team.
The shocking footage began circulating widely across the messaging app Telegram on Monday.
Gagarin and his wife had moved to Spain three years ago from Odintsovo, a suburb of Moscow. They both worked as fitness trainers in the city of Torrevieja.
Mönkkönen, according to her social media profiles, came to the Alicante province of Spain from Helsinki. She taught yoga and aquagym, and senior fitness classes her company called “granny exercise.”
Before Mönkkönen’s fatal leap, a male figure, likely Gagarin, can be seen in Gagarina’s video, performing a similar stunt. He makes it successfully out of the water, to whoops and cheers from those watching from the rocks.
Cliff-diving was a regular habit of his, according to friends. “Danya jumped from that cliff every summer like a man possessed,” one named Artyom told the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He took the risk, but he liked that adrenaline.”
A client of Gagarin’s also told KP that he would film his jumps and show them off to his trainees.
“Danila was a professional sportsman, and his wife Dasha as well,” Elena Gagarina, Gagarin’s mother and an artist, told Russian news station REN TV. “They are both fitness trainers, so they were always testing their strength and capabilities.”
Elena went on to say that the family was trying to secure emergency visas to get to Spain before her son’s cremation, planned for the last day of September. Some of the ashes will be scattered at sea; the rest will be split between Gagarina and the family, who will take their portion back to Russia.
“Danila was a man of the sea,” Gagarin's mother said in the interview.
Complicating that plan has been the worry that the family’s vaccinations, likely the Russian-made Sputnik V, will be rejected by Spanish authorities.
“Our vaccines aren’t accepted there,” Elena told the Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets, without naming which kind she had received. “We’re like outcasts.”
Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here