Bawsey Pits: Inquest Rules Man Died Accidentally

25 February 2014, 15:24 | Updated: 25 February 2014, 16:12

The girlfriend of a man from King's Lynn who drowned during last summer's heatwave has described how she desperately tried to save him before he disappeared underwater.

Ryan Pettengell died at the Bawsey Pits country park near King's Lynn in Norfolk, as temperatures topped 25C on the afternoon of July 16th last year.

The 41-year-old had been enjoying a day out with friends and their children at the flooded quarry.

An inquest at Norwich Coroner's Court heard that his partner, Lauren Cole, had swam out to save her boyfriend after seeing him get into trouble.

But after struggling to hold on to him, she was forced to let go of his hand as he began to drag her under.

In a statement read to the court, she added: "I saw him swim about half way and then he began to slow down.

"He said in a breathless voice 'Get me a stick, get me a log'.

"I got hold of a branch and swam out to him. I held the branch out but it wouldn't float.

"I grabbed his arm and started to pull him.

"I was being pulled under and I had to swim back to the side.

"As I swam back I could see him going under.

"I tried to get another branch but all I could see was bubbles where he had been.''

Umar Balogun, 16, from London, also died at Bawsey Pits on the same day.

The Bawsey Pits deaths were among a series of drownings across the UK as temperatures soared in July.

In the same week a woman died while swimming in the sea in Cornwall and a man died after getting into difficulties while in a river on the Shropshire/North Wales border.

Swimming in the lakes, which are deep and thick with undergrowth, is banned, but the warning signs are ignored by many people.

Victoria Hopps, from West Norfolk Borough Council, said: "The day after the incident people were still swimming in the water.

"I was there with a police officer telling people to get out and they were ignoring us.

"It's a difficult site to police when people ignore the warnings even the day after this happened.''

The inquest heard Mr Pettengell's body was found about 50 metres from the shore.

Firefighter Lee Broadhurst, who was responsible for search and recovery, said Mr Pettengell was likely to have been out of his depth.

Wesley Moule, Mr Pettengell's best friend, was also with him at the time.

He said his friend was a good swimmer and when he first started calling for help friends thought he was joking.

"It wasn't until we saw him going under and not coming back up that we thought there was something seriously wrong,'' Mr Moule added.

Emergency services were at the beauty spot searching for Mr Balogun when they were alerted to Mr Pettengell's disappearance.

PC Ryan Williams said Mr Pettengell had told friends he was going to help with the search for Mr Balogun whose body, unbeknown to him, had already been found in a separate lake.

The jury returned a conclusion that Mr Pettengell died as the result of an accident.

West Norfolk Borough Council has since worked with the site's owners, Sibelco UK, to improve safety, the inquest heard.

This included better maintenance of warning signs, new signs showing the most dangerous areas and displaying emergency contact details, and planting to prevent access to the water.

Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake said she would prepare a report highlighting concerns about safety at the site.