Accidental death verdicts for teens who drowned in River Wear

Girls, aged 14 and 15, were overcome by the river's current

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The Independent Online

Two teenage schoolgirls drowned in a tragic accident despite a massive rescue attempt involving more than 100 people. Tonibeth Purvis, 15, leapt into the fast-flowing tidal stretch of the River Wear at Washington, near Sunderland, in a desperate bid to save her friend, Chloe Fowler, 14, on one of the hottest days of the summer in July.

But despite valiant efforts by police, their friends and members of the public to save them the girls were swept to their deaths, an inquest in Sunderland heard.

Coroner Derek Winter praised the efforts of everyone involved. He said: “These events were traumatic and remain so. They touched the families and the whole community. Chloe jumped into the water and got into difficulty.

“Then Tonibeth in a valiant attempt to try and save her also got into difficulty. Both were overwhelmed by the river and drowned despite the efforts of friends and the rescue services. I am so very sad about your loss.“

The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death for both girls, who had been playing at the river with friends. Among those who tried to come to their help was an off-duty police officer who dived in and swam across the river but was unable to reach the youngsters. Two local fishermen also intervened.

At the height of the rescue efforts dozens of emergency service workers lined the banks whilst specialist dive teams scoured the river and a police helicopter surveyed the scene from overhead.

Both girls were found later that evening within 100 metres of where they were last seen at 3pm. Detective Inspector Mark Ord of Northumbria Police said: “The river was in full flow and was a hazardous environment. It was six metres deep in the middle. We tried desperately to find the girls.” The local authority has since stepped up checks along the river since the tragedy.