The friends of a teenage girl who drowned in the River Wear have recorded heart-rending messages to warn others of the dangers of swimming in open water.
Chloe Fowler, 14, and Tonibeth Purvis, 15, both died after getting into difficulties in the river at Fatfield, Washington in July 2013.
Classmates from Chloe’s school Oxclose Community Academy have worked with Sunderland City Council to put together a DVD promoting water safety.
Today, they were near the spot where the girls lost their lives to talk about the importance of the message.
Shauna Nichol, 16, from Blackfell, said: “We want to raise awareness so that no one else will jump in and make the same mistake the girls did. We don’t want anyone else to go through what we did – the hurt.”
Beth McCabe, 16, from Shiney Row, who also went to primary school with Chloe, added: “When we found out what had happened we just couldn’t believe it. It was a massive shock because we knew Chloe couldn’t swim. It was just a really heartbreaking situation that we all went through.
“I don’t think people understand how dangerous it is because in the river there are two currents, one going one side and the other going the other side and obviously there’s a massive whirlwind in the middle of it, so I don’t think people understand how crazy it is.”
Chloe’s sister Bethan Fowler, 17, and her aunt Jade Anderson, 16, also visited the scenes to tend to the flowers left by friends and loved ones.
Bethan, who was there when Chloe and Tonibeth lost their lives, said: “It was devastating thinking that we’d lost one of our close family members, the one that kept us all together.
“It was honestly heartbreaking, seeing her go, seeing her take her last breath.
“We have flashbacks on a night, nightmares and everything, I can’t go to sleep without my light on. It’s just horrible.”
She added: “This is an important message because I wouldn’t like it to happen to anyone else. I know what our family has goes through every year for the anniversaries, and my mam and dad are just distraught every time it comes around.
“You see on Facebook that there are still people going and jumping in rivers and things like that. I think it’s honestly disgusting. I know it’s their own choice but it should be stopped and something should be done about it.”
The DVD’s release through social media is part of a wider council campaign to remind people of the dangers of the river and open water.
Its release has been timed to coincide with the RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign this summer and the city council’s annual water safety programme which returns to schools this October.
Sunderland City Council is working in partnership with the RNLI on joint water safety campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers in and around water safety, and promote important safety messages echoing those of the girls in the video clips.
Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, for Sunderland City Council, said: “I think the video the ladies have made is outstanding and it gives very much a sense of how they feel about the circumstances of two incredible young people losing their lives in this river and it really portrays the hurt and the pain that they felt and they continue to feel to this day, which is why we’re using it as part of our campaign to raise awareness of water safety.
“We’re getting towards the end of the school holidays where children start to get bored. There’s no sense of fear with young people and they all think they’re invincible and we’re just really highlighting today that we want everyone in Sunderland to stay safe.”
Carl Harris, RNLI lifeguard manager for Tyne and Wear, added: “It’s a really important message that we’re trying to let people know that open water is very different to swimming in your indoor pool.
“The water is much colder, getting out might be much harder than getting in was, you don’t what’s beneath the surface, the varying depths of levels, you probably won’t be able to stand up and because of the currents in the water you don’t know how quickly you’re going to move out. You could be downstream before you know it and getting out can be very difficult.”