Canoeist's parents tell of their loss: 'The light has gone out of our lives'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A COUPLE whose daughter was one of the four sixth-formers to die in the Dorset canoe tragedy said yesterday a light had gone out in their lives.

Denis and Jackie Walker issued a statement through their solicitors a day after what would have been Rachael Walker's 17th birthday.

'Rachael was full of life and looking forward so much to her week's activities at Lyme Regis, and to her 17th birthday. She enjoyed so much going away with her schoolfriends and was going to spend a very happy time celebrating her birthday with them,' they added.

The adventure week was to have been a break for Rachael from her studies for A-level English and economics. She was one of eight pupils who set out on Monday to canoe from Lyme Regis to Charmouth with two instructors and a teacher.

Investigations continued into the cause of the tragedy, and Dorset Police said they would examine any grounds for criminal proceedings.

Five survivors were recovering at home last night but Samantha Stansby, 17, and Emma Hartley, 16, remained in hospital, where they were said to be in a satisfactory condition.

The bravery of the eight pupils stood out in accounts of the tragedy. Noel and Sylvia Dunne, whose 16-year-old son, Simon, died after spending more than four hours floating in the sea, spoke movingly of the way the canoeists tried to keep each other alive as they waited for rescue.

'The strong helped the weak, then the weak helped the strong,' Mr Dunne said. 'They were so brave. It would have been easy for any of them to say 'I'm swimming for shore, it's every man for himself' sort of thing, but they didn't. They thought of each other.'

Mrs Dunne added: 'It was quite choppy. The canoes were taking in water and sinking. When that happened the others, those whose canoes sank, tried to hold on to the canoes that were still afloat. But with the extra weight of the kiddies holding on to them, they sank as well. They ended up with one canoe.'

The couple said survivors told them Simon tried to revive spirits by singing about 'eight red canoes sinking in the water'.

Two of the pupils, Joanna Willis, 16, and Marie Rendle, 17, exchanged hugs with a nurse as they were discharged from Weymouth and District Hospital. Norman Pointer, the teacher, 49, and Karen Gardner, 21, and Anthony Mann, 23, the instructors, were also allowed home.

People were still arriving at Southway Comprehensive School in Plymouth yesterday to deliver floral tributes or cuddly toys to the growing pile outside the door.

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