Portsmouth Tragedy

Why is it that dangerous places attract us like magnets ? Why is it that we don’t put enough signs up warning others of the hazards ? Why do people ignore the signs, when there are warnings ? Why don’t we effectively police areas that are known to be extremely dangerous ? Why aren’t there enough lifesaving equipment in such areas ?

Why all these questions ? The answer is simple – I witnessed a tragedy yesterday. It could have been far worse had it not been for the heroic and quick actions of two very brave men and the emergency services who were called when things took a turn for the worst.

There are numerous conflicting stories on the internet and I can only state what I saw. I was on Spice Island, standing to the right of an ancient monument known as the Round Tower. I was looking out over the harbour on a beautiful sunny day.

On the other side of the Tower is a popular beach that faces the Isle of Wight. It’s a sun trap and known locally as “hot walls” and yesterday the beach was packed with holiday-makers, all enjoying the sun and the sea. The Round Tower is infamous because the locals used to jump from the top of the tower and into the harbour – this has been outlawed because of the fast flowing, dangerous currents and the rocks immediately below the tower. Yesterday’s tragedy wasn’t connected to a bunch of exuberent children flinging themselves into the sea from a great height, it began, apparently, when one or more of the children was swept off their feet by the current.

What I witnessed was two people in the water, that at first seemed okay – apart from the fact that the current was sweeping them into the busy harbour. What happened next was a blur but I remember a couple of other by-standers asking if they should report it to the emergency services. I immediately said yes as things were getting potentially very ugly.  It transpired that the two in the water were a 17 year old girl and a three year old child, who was being kept afloat by the 17 year old. A man, who had been sunbathing on the rocks in front of the sea defences, swum out to rescue the children in the water who were probably 15 – 25 yards to the right of where I was standing. He got to them very quickly and waited with them until they were plucked out of the water by the crew of a Pilot Launch.  The launch was on the far side of the harbour, and we summoned its attention by waving at it. It came across quite slowly as it had to cross the shipping lane to get to our side of the harbour. When it got close enough to the group in the water, one of the crew threw a lifebuoy, on a rope, to them to pull them in but this fell short and had to be repeated. Whilst this drama was unfolding, I became aware of another person in the water who was only 15 or so feet away from the shore – again at first he looked ok and was swimming to the shore, he looked tired and it transpired that he also had bravely jumped in to save the two children in the water. As the other man was so close to the shore I thought he was alright but he seemed to dive under the water almost as if he was trying to pick something up from the bottom and sadly this was the last time I saw him. I quickly mentioned this to the man who was on his mobile to the police and a hunt for him quickly got underway. A police launch turned up and transferred the children and the other man to the shore and then proceeded to look for the missing man. It seemed that every available policeman and coastguard within the area swarmed down Tower Street and there were emergency vehicles everywhere. In addition, a search and rescue helicopter flew over the area time and time again in a vane attempt to find the missing man.

Traumatised, and after I had given my details to a WPC, I decided to leave the scene and let the experts deal with the situation. I have since been looking at the Portsmouth Evening News website and listening to the various local news reports on the television but as yet the missing man has not been found. My thoughts are with his partner and his young family.

I started writing this post yesterday but decided it was in poor taste but I have since had a change of heart. I would like the questions that I raised earlier to be answered and I would encourage anyone who has been moved by the bravery of the missing man to write to your MP and pose similar questions. There are equally dangerous places everywhere and it is our responsibility to make people aware of them and provide the right equipment to deal with emergencies. This last point is a particularly sore one as there was not a lifebuoy anywhere near the Round Tower.

In conclusion, it’s everyones right to have access to both the coast and to the countryside but surely, we must develop an awareness of danger and be responsible for our own and others actions. I don’t advocate living in a nanny state but any means but please take care !


About chriswoodartist

painter, print-maker and illustrator

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