Broads rescue drama

STEPHEN PULLINGER A birthday bash on the Broads nearly ended in disaster when seven friends had to leap off their sinking motor cruiser into a reed bed in the pitch black.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

A birthday bash on the Broads nearly ended in disaster when seven friends had to leap off their sinking motor cruiser into a reed bed in the pitch black.

Water swamped the interior of the boat so quickly that the group from Hertfordshire had to leave behind all their possessions, and when Gorleston inshore lifeboat arrived on the scene shortly before 3am yesterday the crew found many of them shivering in their underwear.

Last night, it was still unclear how the cruiser had apparently been badly holed at the stern, but the Broads Authority said a thorough investigation would be carried out. The accident happened less than a week after a report highlighted the fact that the number of drowning “near misses” on the Broads had nearly doubled in the last year.

The drama unfolded at a bend on the River Bure about half a mile east of the Pontiac Roadhouse, midway between Acle and Yarmouth.

The party had hired the cruiser from Richardson's, in Stalham, on Friday and had been celebrating the 23rd birthday of scaffolder Ross Hamilton in the Swan Inn, at Horning, hours before.

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Reliving their ordeal, Mr Hamilton, of Bishop's Stortford, said: “We left Horning at about 7pm and carried on down the river before we moored up on the bank and started getting really drunk.

“We all went to sleep but when I woke up water was in the boat up to mattress level. I woke everyone else and then all we could do was jump into the reeds.”

One of his friends, Laura Jenkins, 22, said: “We did not have time to get our clothes and have lost nearly everything we had on board.”

The party, none of whom could shed any light on the accident, lost other possessions worth hundreds of pounds, including a stereo and satellite navigation system.

Mr Hamilton managed to dial 999 on his mobile but he was confused about their location and it took a while for coastguards to establish it.

Lifeboat helmsman Kevin Bennington said: “We were called out at 2.10am but it took us quite a time to get there in the dark and we had to use search lights.

“When we arrived they were standing in the reed bed wet and cold and some of them were quite distressed. The boat must have hit something big because there was a hole in it and it was sinking.”

One of the group cut his hands on the reeds, but after checks by paramedics the group was taken to Yarmouth's Vauxhall Holiday Park for the rest of the night.

A coastguard spokesman said it was a mystery what had caused the damage and they had had no report of a collision from another vessel.

He said: “They were lucky. On other parts of the Broads where it is not so easy to jump to the bank they could have been in a lot of trouble.”

Steve Birtles, the Broads Authority's head of waterways strategy and safety, confirmed they would be carrying out an investigation. No one was available from Richardson's yesterday to comment.

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