AN eight-year-old boy died after being swept away by a fast-flowing river while playing with friends, an inquest heard today.
Ian Bell grabbed a branch after falling into the River Wear when it was in spate in April, but the branch snapped and he was washed away.
The boy, who had been playing with two friends near his home in Sunnybrow, County Durham, was found days later after a major operation involving police, fire, search specialists and the RAF, joined by hundreds of members of the public.
A diver who decided to help the search found Ian’s body snagged on a tree root under the water three-and-a-quarter miles downstream from the spot where he fell in.
Pathologist Dr Paul Barrett told the inquest at Crook Civic Centre that the cause of death was ``immersion in water“. That was different from drowning, in that the shock of the cold or panic could have led to Ian’s death.
County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Chief Superintendent Andy Reddick, who led the police operation to find Ian, said officers were alerted 50 minutes after the boy fell in.
He was playing with two friends - unnamed in the inquest - in a fast-flowing stream close to where it met the Wear when he slipped and was quickly pulled into the main river.
``There is a description that he travelled across the water, he caught hold of a branch but the branch then snapped,” the officer said.
The boys went home and when Ian did not return with them, the alarm was raised at around 7.20pm on April 27.
The coroner was told there was no third party involvement in Ian falling in the river.
A major search was started that evening, involving family and friends, police officers, five fire crews and three helicopters.
In the coming days, search specialists checked the 25 miles of the Wear to the sea at Sunderland.
His body was found by William Thompson, a member of the public with 30 years’ diving experience, in a slow-moving section of the river at Page Bank, on May 6.
Mr Reddick had brought in teams with underwater cameras and consulted a river flow expert from Oxford University.
In total, 2,142 hours were spent by professionals in the search, he said.
Conditions at times were dangerous and there were fears that searchers could be swept away.
The coroner said: ``I think considerable thanks should be given to all the people involved, the professionals as well as the lay volunteers.”
Ian’s family, however, felt the police operation was inadequate, and after the inquest his mother, Claire Bell, instructed reporters: ``Don’t thank the police, thank everybody else but the police.”
After the hearing Mr Reddick warned youngsters of the dangers of playing near water, adding: ``There’s no-one to be blamed - it was just lads being adventurous.”