A MAN who swam the English Channel almost half a century ago has spoken of his shock after an experienced swimmer died tackling the ultra tough feat.

Endurance athlete Nick Thomas fell unconscious just a mile from the French coast while doing the 21-mile endurance swim over the weekend.

The 45-year-old from Shropshire was pulled from the water and given CPR before being pronounced dead in Calais.

Fixby grandfather Phillip Kaye, 78, conquered the Channel in August 1966 after crossing from Cap Gris Nez to Folkestone.

Retired swimming teacher Phillip said he was shocked to hear of Mr Thomas’ death, saying: “It’s an agonising swim and not something to be taken lightly.”

Philip Kaye of Fixby who swam the English Channel from Cap Gris Nez to Sandgate 50 years ago.

Phillip recounted his swim to the Examiner this week after Phil Yorke from Mirfield completed the challenge exactly 49 years after him.

He added: “The most difficult aspect of the swim is being dictated by the tides as you get pushed miles off course.

“When I did it, there was a point when every yard I swum I was receding a yard back from the English coast."

50 years ago, Philip Kaye swam the Channel — and sealed his place in history

“You have to be very tough mentally.

“That said, the observation team are very savvy and any signs of flagging or possible dangers and they make you stop.

“That was 50 years ago so nowadays people are even more health and safety concious.

“It’s terrible that something like this has happened.”

A spokesperson for the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation said of the tragedy this weekend: “It is an extreme sport, we know the risks.

“He was doing what he loved doing. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Nine people have now died since people have been swimming the Channel, three of them British.