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Tributes to ‘gentle giant’ who died in river drowning tragedy

PUBLISHED: 08:57 21 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 22 June 2020

Floral tributes to the 37-year-old man who died after falling from a boat into the River Wensum in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

Floral tributes to the 37-year-old man who died after falling from a boat into the River Wensum in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

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Tributes have been paid to a ‘gentle giant’ who died after falling into the river in the centre of Norwich.

Keith Clarke said the man who died after falling into the River Wensum in Norwich was a 'gentle giant'. Picture: Simon ParkinKeith Clarke said the man who died after falling into the River Wensum in Norwich was a 'gentle giant'. Picture: Simon Parkin

The 37-year-old man drowned after falling overboard from a boat moored near Norwich yacht station at Foundry Bridge on the River Wensum.

The alarm was then raised after members of the public, who jumped in the water, were unable to locate him.

Extensive search operations took place at the River Wensum to find the man who had fallen overboard. Picture: Hemsby LifeboatExtensive search operations took place at the River Wensum to find the man who had fallen overboard. Picture: Hemsby Lifeboat

Search and rescue teams from across the county spent the early hours of Friday, June 19 attempting to retrieve his body.

Keith and Yvonne Clarke, who were aboard another boat when emergency services arrived, said they were devastated at his death after becoming friendly with the man.

Rescue teams used specialist equipment in their attempted to find a man who had fallen overboard. Picture: Hemsby LifeboatRescue teams used specialist equipment in their attempted to find a man who had fallen overboard. Picture: Hemsby Lifeboat

Mr Clarke said: “He was a lovely chap. He was a gentle giant, he was 19 and a half stone. He had some mental health issues, but he was so harmless. It’s an absolute tragedy.”

Floral tributes have been laid on railings on Riverside Road.

Moorings at Norwich yacht station where the man fell into the River Wensum seen from Foundary Bridge. Picture: Simon ParkinMoorings at Norwich yacht station where the man fell into the River Wensum seen from Foundary Bridge. Picture: Simon Parkin

The couple, who have been living on a boat on the Broads for five years, said they believed the man boarded another boat after leaving them on Thursday night.

Mr Clarke said: “The night he died he was with us until around 8.30pm then when we got on our boat for dinner we asked him what he was doing and he said he was going to get a takeaway then go home. So we said we’ll see you tomorrow.

“Unfortunately he decided to jump aboard another boat and the next thing we knew was all the ambulances and fire engines out here.

“A lot of people had warned him about getting on another boat and I think that was his mistake that night.”

He said they had become friends with the man after meeting him when they moored in Norwich six weeks ago. They had recently helped him move into his new flat.

Mr Clarke said: “We have actually got to know him very well. We all celebrated his birthday just a couple of weeks ago.

“We have chairs on the bank and he used to come and sit with us and we would have a barbecue. He was a great chap. We loved him to bits.”

Hemsby Broads Rescue were involved in the major emergency service operation with specialist underwater equipment used to retrieve him from the water.

A member of the lifeboat team said: “From what we understood the man was on the boat by himself when he fell in and there wasn’t many people about.

“But a few members of the public did see it happen and did their very best to get him out quickly and safely.”

He added: “Everyone worked so hard and I can’t fault anyone’s effort. It’s just such a shame it couldn’t have had a happier ending.”

Police have confirmed that the death is being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious.

A post-mortem will take place to establish the cause of death.


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