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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK
Evans 'saddened' by sea death
The Nausicaa yacht
The Nausicaa was taken back to Hamble harbour
Broadcaster Chris Evans was reported to be "deeply shocked and saddened" after seeing the skipper of a yacht drown.

James Ward, 50, was sailing with six other people, including Mr Evans, in the Solent off England's south coast when he was struck by a sailing boom and knocked overboard.

Investigations are continuing but coastguards said it was a tragic accident and there were no suspicious circumstances.

Mr Evans was uninjured but "deeply shocked and saddened" by the tragedy involving his friend, a spokesman said.

Chris Evans
Chris Evans was on the yacht

He added: "His heart goes out to his (Mr Ward's) family and friends."

It is understood that he was with friends celebrating a birthday and that his wife, singer Billie Evans, was not with them when the accident happened at 2115 BST on Wednesday.

Another sailor, Justin Bloomfield, said he jumped into the water to try to save the skipper after being called to help by the coastguard.

"We were a long way from the other passengers, we could hear them shouting and possibly calling their name.

"There may have even been screams," he said.

'Obviously dead'

"One of the guys saw him about 20 to 30 yards away from us, as we got there we saw that he was face down in the water just floating.

"I jumped overboard, swam to the body and turned it over so his head was out of the water.

"But it was fairly obvious by that point that he was dead."

Kevin Briscoe, of Hampshire Police, said: "We have talked to the people on board about what happened last night. They were coherent, they were not drunk.

"They had been celebrating at a party and had had something to drink but everyone knew what they were doing.

"It does not appear at this stage that alcohol was a factor."


It's a terrible tragedy that something like this can happen on such a nice day

Colin Olden, rescue craft member
One of the yacht's passengers had dialled 999 on a mobile phone to alert the emergency services and was advised to turn on the yacht lights so the passing Isle of Wight car ferry could find them.

But no-one left on board knew how to turn on the lights or use the VHF radio on the 31-foot yacht called Nausicaa, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

A rescue craft and a helicopter were sent by Solent Coastguard and a police boat and three other nearby vessels joined the search.

Colin Olden, the coxswain of the Hamble rescue craft, said they were told that Mr Ward, from Godalming, Surrey, was not wearing a life jacket when they arrived on the scene.

James Ward
James Ward: "Sailing was his true love"

He added: "There was no wind, the sea was very smooth. It's a terrible tragedy that something like this can happen on such a nice day."

Unmarried Mr Ward, landlord of the White Horse in Hascombe, Surrey - which is Mr Evans' local - was described as "a first class man".

Pub regular Bob Keane, 57, added: "I've known him for 25 years and he's always been a perfect gentleman.

"Sailing was his true love. He was always heading off for the coast.

"He was very good at it. When he wasn't doing that, he was skiing. James was a very fit man."

He described Mr Ward as a central figure in village life, often organising charity events or cricket matches.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Hall
"The skipper owned Mr Evans's local pub"

Click here to go to Southampton
See also:

01 Aug 02 | Entertainment
08 Aug 02 | Entertainment
14 Jul 02 | Entertainment
07 Jul 02 | Entertainment
14 May 02 | England
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