Deaths of girls who drowned in river near Washington was tragic accident

Tonibeth Purvis, left, and Chloe Fowler.
Tonibeth Purvis, left, and Chloe Fowler.
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A CORONER has praised valiant attempts to rescue two schoolgirls who drowned in the River Wear.

Friends, passers-by and emergency services tried in vain to pluck Tonibeth Purvis and Chloe Fowler from fast flowing water at Fatfield Bridge, near Washington.

Despite their brave efforts, the two teenagers drowned after going into the water on a sunny summer afternoon.

An inquest heard a massive rescue bid, with more than 100 members of the emergency services, was launched, after the pair got into difficulties on July 23.

A Northumbria Police dive team, specialist fire service water rescue craft and police helicopter, worked with officers and firefighters to comb the river and its banks, while anxious friends and family members looked on.

Detective Inspector Mark Ord, from the force’s Homicide and Major Inquiry Team, told the hearing at Sunderland Coroner’s Court how there was initially confusion as to how many people had gone into the water.

Chloe, 14, from Shiney Row, got into difficulties after jumping into the river with a friend.

A teenage boy was able to rescue one of the girls, before Tonibeth, 15, from Barmston, went into to try and help Chloe.

A man, believed to be an off-duty police officer, swam across the river in a desperate bid to save the pair, after seeing the tragedy unfold while walking with his 11-year-old daughter on the opposite bank.

An angler, who could not swim, tried to reach the girls with the branch of a tree, while his friend ran for help.

But all their attempts failed and Tonibeth’s body was recovered from the river shortly before 9pm.

Chloe was found an hour later, after being spotted by a police helicopter.

Coroner Derek Winter said Tonibeth had made a “valiant effort” to save Chloe.

“Both were overcome by the river and drowned, despite efforts by members of the public and the rescue services,” he added.

He recorded a conclusion that both girls had died accidentally.