Helicopter failed to spot canoeists, survivor says: 'Just an hour sooner and everybody would still be alive'

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The Independent Online
ONE OF THE four pupils who survived the canoeing accident at Lyme Bay, Dorset, yesterday told how she watched her friends dying as a rescue helicopter circled overhead but failed to spot them.

Marie Rendle, 17, cried as she described how her friends passed out, became delirious and turned blue with cold in the water as those who were stronger tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The 11-strong party from Southway Comprehensive School in Plymouth, had no flares and desperately tried to attract attention from two passing fishing boats, but they went unheard.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Marie, from Plymouth, said: 'We didn't have any flares on the canoes and when we talked to Tony, the instructor, he said he didn't really feel they were necessary because we were being picked up at 12.'

Only the instructors were provided with spray decks on their canoes and from early on Norman Pointer, their teacher, was unable to keep his canoe upright. The pupils managed to keep together by linking arms after their canoes capsized one by one until all were clinging to that of Samantha Stansby, 17, who survived the tragedy.

In the sea the pupils linked arms and tried to kick to shore. Karen Gardner, one of the instructors, remained with them. The other, Tony Mann, drifted out to sea with Mr Pointer.

'We were all very tired but we kept kicking our legs and we didn't notice at first that Claire had passed out and Karen went over to see her. I think she gave her mouth-to-mouth but she was so quiet. Her legs weren't moving,' Marie said.

But then she thought she was going to die herself. 'Later on Sam and Emma decided to swim together to shore. They got quite far ahead we thought they had made it. In the group that was left with us Simon was starting to panic. He was delirious. I could hear him breathing very loudly. Then he didn't seem to be breathing any more. He went very quiet.'

Marie tried to resuscitate him, but it was impossible because his teeth were so tightly clenched. Dean Sayer also became delirious, trying to kick out when the helicopters appeared at 6.15pm. 'They obviously couldn't see us although they were quite close.' Marie said. 'Dean was waving and Rachel was whistling and Claire didn't know what was going on. Then they stopped and saw us and Rachel passed out and Dean did as well. They were all blue with cold.'

The first helicopter took Claire, Samantha, Dean and Rachel up first. Then a second hauled Marie, Joanna Willis, 16, who survived, and Karen to safety at between 6.30pm and 6.35pm. Emma Hartley, 16, also survived.

'Just an hour sooner would have made a difference. Just an hour sooner and everybody would still be alive,' said Marie, who rejected criticism of the instructors.

A joint funeral service will be held for Claire Langley and Simon Dunne, both 16, at Southway Parish Church on Tuesday. Dean Sayer, 17, is to be buried on Tuesday morning and Rachel Walker, who would have been 17 this week, will be buried the next day.