Teenage sledgers 'reached 50mph' before fatal crash

Parents pay tribute to girl killed when car roof she was riding careered out of control

A teenage girl who watched her best friend die in a sledging accident said yesterday that she had decided at the last minute not to join her on the fatal ride.

Witnesses to the crash that killed Francesca Anobile, 16, and injured four other girls said they could have been travelling at up to 50mph when the Land-Rover roof they were riding on careered out of control in Rother Valley Country Park near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, on Tuesday.

The makeshift sledge had travelled more than 300m across snow-covered fields when it smashed through a wire sheep fence, sending one girl flying into the air before eventually coming to rest against a wooden boundary 100m further down the hill.

In an emotional statement released through the police, Francesca's parents, from Mosborough, Sheffield, paid tribute to their talented daughter who got 15 As at GCSE and was planning to go to Oxford or Cambridge after finishing her A-levels. "We are devastated by the loss of Francesca, who was a beautiful, witty, intelligent and popular young woman with everything to live for," it read. "She was set for an outstanding academic career and had an unbelievable work ethic."

Floral tributes were laid at the scene of the incident yesterday as friends and passers-by remembered the sporty all-rounder who had been in the middle of her Duke of Edinburgh gold award.

Francesca's best friend, Laura Simpson, said that they had been "inseparable", but that she had decided at the last minute not to get on to the sledge.

"I was the only one who didn't get on. I had to watch it all. I watched them come down. I just decided not to get on. I don't even know why. I got to the top and decided not to get on," she said.

Julian McKay, who also witnessed the tragedy, said: "All of a sudden, at a tremendous speed, came this roof with the girls on it. It must have been [travelling at] maybe 50mph. It was so fast they couldn't jump from it.

"I hoped the fence would stop them but they just went straight through it. One of the girls was catapulted from it and [the sledge] went straight down to the fence at the bottom. We looked on and just hoped that they were going to get up, but no one did."

Francesca was airlifted to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, where she later died of her injuries. Two other girls who had been riding on the roof remained in hospital in Rotherham yesterday, one suffering from leg and head injuries. The condition of the third girl, Nikki Burns, who was being treated at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire hospital, was not known.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation was under way yesterday, supported by South Yorkshire Police. Rotherham council said the girls must have climbed over a padlocked gate to gain access to the slope, which is now used to graze cattle. A council spokesman said it was not intended for sledging, despite dozens of families and groups playing on it after heavy overnight snow. Police later warned sledgers to keep away from the site.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?