Chris Evans sees friend die in freak yachting accident

By Martin Hickman
Saturday 28 December 2013 04:12

The celebrity radio and television presenter Chris Evans saw a close friend die in a freak boating accident during a party on a yacht off the south coast of England.

Evans and a group of friends had been on board the Nausicaa in the Solent when the boom suddenly swung and knocked James Ward, who ran Evans' local pub, into the water.

A member of Evans' party and a crewman from a passing boat leapt into the sea in an effort to save the 50-year-old, but he died later.

The tragedy left Evans and his five fellow revellers on a drifting boat without any knowledge of how to sail it or how to summon help on the VHF radio.

They were only rescued when the 31ft vessel sailed into an area of mobile phone reception and one of the party contacted coastguards by dialling 999.

A rescue craft, helicopter and police launch arrived on the scene and the coastguard boat took Mr Ward to shore where an ambulance was waiting.

But Mr Ward, landlord of the White Horse pub in Hascombe, Surrey, could not be resuscitated and was later declared dead. A post-mortem showed that he died from drowning.

Evans, the former Virgin Radio DJ and star of TFI Friday, had become firm friends with Mr Ward since moving into a mansion near Hascombe two years ago.

A spokeswoman for Evans said: "He is deeply shocked and saddened by the death of his friend James Ward. His heart goes out to James' family and friends." The trip is believed to have been marking the birthday of Mr Ward's partner, Susan Barnett.

Police interviewed those on board the boat and said that they had been drinking but did not believe alcohol was to blame for the death.

A spokesman for Hampshire Police said: "They were coherent, they were not drunk. They had been celebrating at a party and had had something to drink but everyone knew what they were doing."

Dave Williams, Solent Coastguard watch manager, said: "It was extremely lucky that this particular yacht was still within mobile cell range of the shore although the accident still had its tragic outcome."

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