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River Wear tragedy: hero teenager lost her life trying in vain to save another girl

Two teenage girls found by police divers in named

The bodies of two teenage girls were pulled from a fast-flowing river after they got into trouble while playing.

The area in which the two girls were found is believed to have been a tidal section of the River Wear, where there would have been foliage and debris in the water.

Northumbria Police said the families of both girls, named as Chloe Fowler and Toni-Beth Purvis, had been informed.

An off-duty policeman dived in and tried to save the pair, who were seen getting into trouble as they played in the river in Fatfield, Washington, Tyne and Wear, at around 3pm on Tuesday afternoon.

Dive teams recovered the bodies of the two teenage girls in the same stretch of river.

Tonibeth Purvis, 15, jumped in to save Chloe Fowler, 14, who had entered the River Wear at Washington, Tyne and Wear, to cool off.

But, after a huge search and rescue attempt, the bodies of both teenagers were recovered by police dive units.

Police have since said that one or two other children also nearly drowned trying to help their friends.

Bethany Rose-McCaffrey, 15, was friends with Tonibeth and said she was a role model who had died a hero.

"I knew Tonibeth, she was loving and caring and always put people before her," she said.

"If it had been a friend or a stranger, she would have gone to help.

"I did not believe it was actually her but then I found out that it was. I'm really shocked because I did not think something like this would happen.

"She has died a hero trying to save a friend's life, which shows we really do have friends out there.

"She was loving and caring and put other people before her. She was a really good role model and always had a smile on her face."

A Northumbria police spokesman said both bodies were taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, adding:  “Activities at the river will now be scaled down and inquiries will be carried out into the circumstances of the incident.”

Earlier, Superintendent Alan Veitch said the rescuers were alerted after the pair were spotted “in difficulty”.

He said: “One was an off-duty police officer going for a run who dived in and saved a boy who was trying to save one of the missing girls.

”Another gentleman dived in and swam the width of the river to get to one of the girls but he came up empty-handed. He was distraught, as you can imagine.“

The river was tidal close to where the children went missing, which meant there was a lot of debris and foliage in the river, the officer said.

They went under around 100 yards downstream, at a bend in the river, the officer said.

He believed the tide might have turned at around the time they got into difficulty.

He added: “Today was one of the hottest days of the year, it's the school holidays and it's tempting to go in the water.

“There are big, strong, powerful river currents and this is not the place to lark about in the water.”

Paul Cronin, 63, who lives nearby, saw one of the men who had attempted a rescue.

He said: “This gentleman came running up towards the park and I thought it was strange because he was dressed in his boxer shorts, even though it's warm.

”He had just crawled out of the river and had nearly drowned himself.

“He was screaming at me, 'Can you swim?'”

They went back to the river but the first rescuer was too exhausted to go back in and Mr Cronin said when he got there, he saw no sign of the girls.

There was a group of three teenage boys who had been playing with the girls.

“By the time I got there it was too late,” he said. “She had gone under the water. If she had been on the surface I would have gone in.”

Mr Cronin said a sister of one of the missing girls was soon at the scene.

“She was in a right state, trying to get in touch with her mother but her phone was dead,” he said.

Fire crews, one in a dinghy searching the river, joined police specialists and a coastguard team, and as darkness set in a helicopter searchlight was used to light up the river.

Around 100 emergency service personnel were involved in the search, which was watched by scores of concerned members of the pubic gathered in small groups close to the scene, near the Biddick Inn pub.