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Accident investigators publish report on ‘tragic and avoidable’ fatal Haverfordwest paddleboarding incident

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The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its report into the stand up paddleboarding accident that resulted in four fatalities at the Haverfordwest Town Weir on 30 October 2021.

The report describes the incident as “tragic and avoidable”.

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At about 0900 on 30 October 2021, a group of nine stand up paddleboarders on a commercial river tour from Haverfordwest to Burton Ferry, descended Haverfordwest Town Weir.

Four of the group became trapped at the weir by the hydraulic towback and subsequently lost their lives.

Morgan Rogers, 24, from Cefin Coed, Merthyr Tydfil; Nicola Wheatley, 40, from Pontarddulais, Swansea and Paul O’Dwyer, 42, from Sandfields, Port Talbot died at the scene.

41 year-old Andrea Powell from the Bridgend area, died later in hospital.

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The MAIB highlighted a series of safety issues following its investigation, highlighting that the leaders’ planning and preparation for the tour was inadequate and overlooked the extreme hazard posed by the weir.

Signage at the launch point and on the river did not adequately alert participants to the risk of descending the weir the report said, whilst the clothing, buoyancy aid and leash worn by the group did not follow recognised guidance.

Damningly, the MAIB said that the leaders of the group did not have the training, experience or qualifications to lead the tour.

It added that UK stand up paddleboarding safety messaging and training governance is inconsistent, and there was no means for the participants to judge the proficiency of training and tour providers.

Haverfordwest Town Weir (Image: MAIB)

The MAIB has made a series of recommendations following the incident.

It has asked Welsh Water, Pembrokeshire County Council, Milford Haven Port Authority and other stakeholders to conduct an immediate risk assessment of the hazard posed to river users by Haverfordwest Town Weir, along with control measures to mitigate that risk – such as riverside signage, warning marker buoys and potentially physical barriers.

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It has also asked UK national sports councils to continue their review of the governance of stand up paddleboarding in the UK and urgently ensure that recognised national governing bodies have the resource, support and expertise to issue advice and guidance, including appropriate training standards to control risk to those who take part in this fast-growing sport.

This includes the publishing of safety standards, a national governing body guide to good practice and other guidance as for participants and those operating SUP activities.

In addition is asks that sports councils review and develop as necessary its minimum criteria for recognition as a national governing body, to include monitoring, coaching and leadership qualifications and safety guidance – along with developing and publishing a national governing body guide to good practice in sport safety.

Andrew Moll, OBE, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, said: “This was a tragic and avoidable accident that had a profound effect on the participants and the families of those that lost their lives.

“Stand up paddleboarding is probably the fastest growing UK water sport, with participation in recent years growing by nearly 300%. However, like all water sports, those that buy or rent a paddleboard need to understand the risks.

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“First, if you are stand up paddleboarding wear the right equipment. Always wear a buoyancy aid and, in moving water, wear a quick release waist leash so you can separate yourself from your paddleboard if it becomes trapped.

“Second, remember that in certain conditions weirs can develop treacherous hydraulic towbacks that can trap and drown you. Authorities responsible for weirs should ensure they have assessed the risks to the public and have implemented appropriate control measures such as signage, railings, warning buoys or even barriers to keep the public safe.

“Third, looking to the future, it is critical that the governance of this fast-growing sport improves so the public receive clear, consistent safety advice and are able to recognise businesses that are competent to deliver training, tours and expeditions.”

(Lead image: MAIB)

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