‘I recall seeing air bubbles coming from beneath me travelling up to the water’s surface’ - Fisherman recalls failed rescue attempt as inquest opens into deaths of teenagers at Thorpe Marshes

Stella Kambi and Bonheur Musungay.

Stella Kambi and Bonheur Musungay. - Credit: Archant

Bystanders risked their lives in valiant attempts to save stricken teenagers Bonheur Munsungay and Stella Kambi, an inquest has heard.

The scene of St Andrews Broad at Thorpe Marshes on the outskirts of Norwich, where Bonheur Musungay,

The scene of St Andrews Broad at Thorpe Marshes on the outskirts of Norwich, where Bonheur Musungay, 14, and Stella Kambi, 17, drowned. PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

On August 12 last year 14-year-old Bonheur had got into difficulty while swimming 10 metres from the bank at Thorpe Marshes nature reserve. His cousin Stella, 17, raced in to save him fully clothed, but both became submerged.

The inquest heard how Bonheur had slept at his aunt's house the previous day before 11 members of the family, including Bonheur, Stella, and Stella's sister Claudine, made their way to the lake.

Mary Sumali, Bonheur's aunt, said after about 30 minutes he 'seemed to be going up and down in the water.' 'I didn't know if he could swim or not,' she said. 'He seemed to be in trouble.

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'Suddenly Stella ran to the water and managed to reach Bonheur. He grabbed onto her very hard around the middle. Bonheur is a strong boy and both he and Stella went immediately down under the surface of the water. They both just disappeared. I watched and kept looking but they didn't come up again.

'I was frightened and ran from the lake and found a fisherman not far from where we were. I never saw Bonheur and Stella again.'

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The fisherman was Edward Wood, who had just arrived and was unpacking his gear.

'Before they came I had heard screaming, which I put down to someone messing around,' he said in evidence. 'I heard someone say 'They can't swim'. It was chaotic.

'I kicked off my shoes and went in fully clothed. The water was cold and visibility was murky up to around five feet. Beyond that it was dark.

'I recall seeing air bubbles coming from beneath me travelling up to the water's surface. I had to keep surfacing seven or eight times to get my breath. With each dive I was becoming increasingly tired and felt more futile as I just couldn't locate the source of the bubbles.'

Jason Parker had been at work at Broadland Environmental Services when a woman began knocking at his window.

'I heard her shout 'Two people are drowning',' he said. 'I reacted immediately.

'I was aware the ground beneath the water line drops away very sharply. It was quite disorientating under the water. I am a trained diver, so would consider myself a competent swimmer. Without equipment it was difficult to get to any real depth and I was mindful of getting myself into difficulty.

'There was no sign of the two children. Someone had fetched a life ring but there was no sign of anyone to throw it to.'

Tony Green had been on his way to collect his van from a nearby garage at around 5pm when he also responded to the calls for help, spending 15 to 20 minutes scouring the water.

The would-be rescuers had been so thorough some were convinced the two youngsters had managed to escape.

'There was no doubt in my mind the two people were not in the water and had got out somewhere,' said Mr Parker.

Simon Hilton, lead diver with the Search and Recovery team, said in evidence the bodies of Stella and Bonheur were found at 'almost exactly' the point where they had last been seen.

Despite attempts at resuscitation they were pronounced deceased.

A post-mortem examination found both Stella and Bonheur died from drowning.

The inquest, at Norfolk Coroner's Court, continues.

Warning signs had been vandalised

Warning signs urging people not to swim in the Thorpe Marshes nature reserve were 'uprooted' just one week before Bonheur and Stella drowned, the inquest heard.

Concerns had been raised about groups of youngsters swimming in the area at the start of the summer and on July 2 Sprowston beat officer PC Sean Phillips circulated an email to the safer neighbourhood team warning 'we do not want any fatalities'.

On July 27 it was noted three signs had been erected saying 'Danger deep water, no swimming'. By August 5 the signs had all gone. Norfolk Wildlife Trust informed police they had been vandalised, and would be replaced by signs warning of the danger of blue-green algae.

Insp Graham Dalton said in a statement: 'Police regularly patrol the area and if they find any young people in the vicinity they will be dealt with and advised not to be in the water for safety reasons.

'All of my staff know the dangers of persons swimming in the water and would not encourage anyone to do so.'

The court also heard from PCSO Michael Olesen, who said he regularly saw people in the lake and while he was able to move on groups of youngsters, he was 'powerless' to prevent people swimming.

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