Events surrounding the Lyme Bay tragedy where four Plymouth students died shocked the city and the country
THE events that unfolded on March 22, 1993 sent shockwaves across the UK.
The weather was fine, with just a force four wind and a slight swell on the sea.
But trouble began immediately. Teacher Norman Pointer rolled over numerous times within minutes and was violently sick. Student Dean Sayer capsized while still close enough to the shore to stand.
When 23-year-old instructor Tony Mann asked if he wanted to go back, Dean said he could make it. Mr Mann considered returning but as he tried to help the teacher, he looked up and where previously, 30 yards away, had been the nine other members of the party, there was now just sea.
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Within 20 minutes, despite the efforts of the other instructor, Karen Gardner, all but one canoe overturned and began to sink, leaving the pupils clinging to the last craft in seas just 9C above freezing.
The centre's handyman was due to meet the party at Charmouth. At 12.25pm he reported the children missing to Joseph Stoddart, the St Albans manager.
A fishing boat, Spanish Eyes, spotted a red kayak bobbing two miles south-east of Lyme Regis. The skipper radioed the Portland Coastguard – the first sign of a tragedy unfolding. Seven minutes before the call, the last canoe sank and the children were left helpless, their life-jackets becoming waterlogged.
Mr Stoddart searched the shoreline for half an hour in a rescue boat, and drove along the shore. In desperation, students Samantha Stansby and Emma Hartley began to swim towards the coast for help. Others slipped into unconsciousness from hypothermia and fatigue – eight miles from their intended destination. June Mowforth, the acting headteacher of Southway Comprehensive, received a call just before 6pm from teacher John Ellis, who was at the St Albans Centre. He mentioned 'a problem' with the trip, but reassured her that the pupils were being picked up by helicopter. Within minutes, after telephoning Dorset police, she learned that one child had died.
Mrs Mowforth, who has since retired, went immediately to the school. Britain's worst canoeing disaster had unfolded as the last survivors were winched aboard rescue helicopters.
Back at the school, the list of eight canoeists were in their hands – but they didn't know who had died. Just after 9pm came the confirmation that Simon Dunne was one of the dead, and that three others were in a critical condition. Mrs Mowforth called in the sixth-form tutors and prepared to break the news to parents. Two hours later, a fax arrived from the police with the list of the dead, identified by the head of sixth form, Norman Pointer, who survived the seven-hour ordeal. After a sleepless night, Mrs Mowforth arrived back in school at 7am, told the 57 staff what had happened and took assemblies in year groups to break the news to 940 pupils.
"There were three gaps in the A-level English class, something everyone found hard to come to terms with," she said in the aftermath of the tragedy.