Man killed by boat propeller after friends pushed him in water, inquest told

'We have no reasons to believe anything untoward happened, it was a tragic accident,’ mother says

Tim Wyatt
Friday 18 December 2020 11:35
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The group of friends had hired a boat and were sailing along the River Bure in Norfolk
The group of friends had hired a boat and were sailing along the River Bure in Norfolk

A man died after he was pushed into the Norfolk Broads by friends during a 30th birthday boat trip and was severely injured by the propellor, an inquest has heard.

Simon Houlder had been joking about with friends in September during a celebratory jaunt down the River Bure, near Great Yarmouth.

But the prank had gone tragically wrong when the man, known by friends as “Sly”, tried to swim back to the boat while it reversed towards him.

Norfolk Coroner’s Court heard while he was trying to get back onboard he was accidentally caught up in the propellor which caused deep wounds to his leg.

Despite being airlifted to hospital by the coastguard helicopter Mr Houlder bled to death on 15 September, the day before his 30th birthday.

Assistant coroner Johanna Thompson recorded a verdict of death by misadventure and said the group had not done anything wrong.

“[There was] nothing untoward about the activity, it was just young men enjoying themselves and having fun,” she said. Unfortunately, for Mr Houlder the japes had a “very sad, tragic outcome”.

The six friends had travelled to Norfolk from their homes in Yorkshire, inquest heard.

Mr Houlder’s mother Jacqueline said she had known the group would push each other into the river as part of the day.  

"The lads he was there with were a band of brothers to us," she said. "We have no reasons to believe anything untoward happened, it was a tragic accident."

In between drinks, the friends had pushed several others into the water for fun and successfully fished them out before Mr Houlder was tipped overboard.

But when the birthday boy ended up in the river, he ended up swimming back just as the boat also reversed towards him.  

One of the friends, Frederick Collins, told the inquest he shouted to Mr Houlder to swim to the side and tried to tell the person driving the boat to stop, but the noise of the engine drowned out his words.  

"Simon came within a metre of the back of the boat and it dawned on him the boat wasn't stopping," he said. "I could see fear etched on his face."

Mr Houlder then disappeared under the water before reappearing by the side screaming and with a serious injury to his leg.  

The 29-year-old from Bubwith in East Yorkshire was a hugely popular member of his local football team Bubwith White Swan FC, which helped raise more than £10,000 for his family through an online crowd-funder following his death.  

Mr Houlder was a popular member of his village pub football team, Bubwith White Swan FC

The GoFundMe page said: “Nobody expected this to happen and the full footballing community are shook up by this.  

"Sly has been a massive part of the club for many years and was an exceptional footballer, a brother and a fantastic friend.

"He was the life of the party and always brought a smile to everybody's face."  

The Broads Authority, which oversees the Norfolk Broads, has issued a safety warning for everyone operating pleasure craft on the rivers and waterways following Mr Houlder’s death, which came just a month after the similar accidental death of a woman who had also fallen off a boat and been killed by the propellor.  

"As with any activity on the water, there are risks involved and to minimise these it is important that everyone follows safety advice for using the waterways, the Authority’s chief executive John Packman said.  

"It is especially important for those that have not used a boat before.”

He added his organisation would try to ensure hire companies pass on critical safety information when customers pick up their boats.  

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