TOUCHING tributes have been paid to a firefighter and devoted father-of-four who died while taking part in a gruelling triathlon event in Spain.

Carl Cavanagh got into difficulties while swimming in the prestigious Challenge Peguera Mallorca and died on Tora beach on Saturday morning.

Mr Cavanagh, 45, leaves his wife, Lizzie, and four children. He was brought up in Bournemouth and lived in Wimborne and is a former member of Wimborne Rugby Club.

He worked as a fireman at Heathrow Airport but had also worked at both Bournemouth and Southampton airports in the past. He had also been a retained firefighter in Hampshire.

Close friend and former colleague Michael Coates told the Daily Echo: "He was just an amazing man. He has been a firefighter for most of his life and has saved so many lives.

"This was a man that would sacrifice everything for his family, friends and community. He raised lots of money for charity and was a good example, role model and inspiration to others."

Mr Coates, who took part in endurance events with Mr Cavanagh, added: "He was as fit as a fiddle. He was taking part in a tough event but he was more than capable.

"He has taken part in many endurance events before incluidng Ironman events. This happened near the beginning of the event in the 1.2 mile swim. It is heart-breaking."

A JustGiving page has been set up by Emma Shepherd to raise £500 for Mr Cavanagh’s family.

As part of the appeal she said: “Carl leaves behind a huge amount of heartbroken family and friends but in particular a much-loved wife and four precious children who were his world.

“There are so many people feeing helpless right now unable to take their pain away so I have set up this page just to help bring a little less stress to his family whilst they are trying to cope with dealing with life without him. Carl was loved by many people."

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are very saddened to learn of the passing of our fire service colleague Mr. Cavanagh and our deepest condolences are with his family and friends at this time."

Inquiries are under way in Spain into the cause of the tragedy.