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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Handyman

£16575 - £18785 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Dundee based butchers requ...

Recruitment Genius: Confectionery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To effectively manage a team which is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat