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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK
Student died trying to save canoe
Iain Hickson
Rescue bids failed as Iain tried to save his equipment
A 19-year-old canoeist died in a fast-moving river battling to save his capsized canoe, an inquest heard in west Wales was told.

Iain Hickson -a promising chemical engineering student - was washed into dangerous rapids on the swollen River Teifi in Llandysul after capsizing during a competition.

The Carmarthenshire coroner said he was satisfied the event organisers had followed all safety procedures.

Mr Hickson was swept away despite the efforts of fellow canoeists to rescue him.


We are pleased that it is absolutely clear that all the people involved in the accident did their utmost to assure his survival

Iain's father, Mark Hickson

Heavy rain and flooding hampered searches to recover his body. It was not found until almost three weeks after the tragedy.

Coroner John Owen recorded a verdict of accidental death after hearing Mr Hickson's body had been found submerged in the river with his neck snagged on a rope.

A post mortem concluded that death was probably due to a combination of drowning and asphyxiation.

The first year Swansea University student - who was from Norwich - was taking part in a Welsh universities' slalom competition in Llandysul last December.

Level dropped

The inquest in Ammanford heard the river had been close to bursting its banks the day before.

The contest was on the point of being cancelled, but the river level had dropped three feet overnight and it continued as planned.

Mr Hickson was left to complete the 270 metre slalom course alone after a fellow competitor capsized early on.

Witness Tim Palmer told the inquest he assumed Mr Hickson completed the course.


I threw the line down river from him and he swam into it and caught it and I shouted to him to let the boat go - but he let go of the line instead

Fellow canoeist Paul Hunt
"The last I saw of him, he was canoeing strongly further on," he said.

"I assumed he went on and finished.

"It was only 30 minutes later that I heard that he had not arrived and had not been seen."

University of Glamorgan team captain Paul Hunt was on the riverbank and saw Mr Hickson rescue two drifting paddles and then capsize his canoe.

He said Mr Hickson grabbed his water-filled canoe in a bid to save it, but was unable to pull himself to safety on a line thrown to him from the river bank.

Floated off

"I threw the line down river from him and he swam into it and caught it and I shouted to him to let the boat go but he let go of the line instead.

"The line went slack and the canoeist floated off around the corner 40 yards ahead into the final eddy."

Swansea student and safety canoeist Geoffrey Wild said he saw Mr Hickson approaching and moved into the centre of the river to intercept him.

"The person grabbed the front of my canoe with his left hand while still holding on to his own canoe with his right," he said.

Screamed out

"I called to him to let go of his canoe because it was hindering my progress but he did not do so."

He said Mr Hickson appeared to scream out as they approached a set of rapids and then disappeared from view.

Mr Wild said he lost sight of him almost immediately and he feared that he had been sucked under the water.

"He seemed more worried about his canoe than anything else he just wanted to sort that out," he said.

'Tragic accident'

Mike Devlin, an expert with the British Canoe Union, said the decision to go ahead with the event had been "reasonable and appropriate".

"My view was that the unfortunate death of Iain Hickson was a tragic accident. It sounds like that with the best of motives he probably hung on to his canoe for too long."

After the verdict, the teenager's father, Mark Hickson, said: "We are pleased that it is absolutely clear that all the people involved in the accident did their utmost to assure his survival.

"His death was a tragic accident and we are very grateful to all those concerned."

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See also:

07 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Canoeist drifts to Australia
28 Jul 99 | UK
Going to extremes
28 Jul 99 | World
Danger of the white water
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