A jury at the inquest into an 11-year-old schoolgirl who drowned after falling into water at Drayton Manor Theme park in Tamworth in Staffordshire, has concluded her death was accidental.
Evha Jannath was "propelled" from a six-seater vessel on Splash Canyon at Drayton Manor on May 9 2017, while on an end-of-year school trip with staff and friends from Jameah Girls Academy in Leicester.
Evha and four friends boarded the boat unsupervised, after a member of staff allocated to look after them, stayed with another pupil who didn’t want to go on the ride.
The inquest heard how Evha and other pupils had been repeatedly standing up on the circular vessel and were "reaching into the water" against the rules.
Their boat had then hit a barrier and sent her head first into the water, initially the water was up to her thighs. Appearing uninjured, she was then shown on CCTV wading along the edge of the ride route towards the exit platform, trying to get back to her friends as she was unable to swim.
A member of the public standing at the ride course’s barrier, a few feet above, told her to stop where she was. The youngster carried on wading and then tried to climb the ride’s ‘travelator’ which lifts the ride vessels up out of the water, onto an exit platform.
As she climbed the ‘algae-covered’ wooden planks on the mechanism, she fell off the side into a ‘much deeper’ area of water at the park.
An alarm was raised and staff rushed over to the ride to begin a search. Some 11 minutes later, Evha was spotted face down in the water.
Following six more minutes she was pulled out, described as ‘lifeless’, CPR and three defibrillator shocks were administered before ambulance crew arrived.
Despite advance life support by air ambulance medics, the schoolgirl was pronounced dead less than two hours later at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Home Office pathologist, Dr Frances Hollingbury said she had determined a cause of death of drowning, although it was initially recorded as a result of blunt force trauma to the chest.
Former and current members of staff told the inquest that there was no water rescue equipment near the ride.
Keith Whitefoot who works as engineer support at the theme park, gave an emotional account and said the staff did all they could to save the youngster and ‘preserve her dignity’.
"I ran a short distance and scanned a stretch of water nearby. I climbed the 6ft fence and thoroughly checked the area. The water was about 5 or 6 foot. I swam though a gap and got to the ramp and I could see Jamie had someone.He brought her to me and I grabbed hold of her by her duffel coat. I removed her scarf, she was cold and clammy, I started CPR immediately, I was concerned her lungs were full of fluid, so I turned her to the side. We used a defibrillator and I shocked her three times.Sadly she didn’t respond. There was no water safety equipment on the day. Once we located her we did all we could and all we could to preserve her dignity".
Jameah Girls Academy Headteacher Enfana Bora said the teacher, who was supposed to accompany the girls, acted in line with the school’s health and safety policy on the day.
"We can't stipulate teachers must be on rides, as there will be instances where some children would not wish to be on the ride, and so in those cases it's safer overall for the teacher to stay with that child... they make the assumption the park staff are responsible foroverall safety on that ride".
On the day of the incident, there only been 660 guests at the park which was considered a ‘quiet day’ as on a busy day there could be up to two thousand guests.
Drayton Manor Director of Park Operations Steve Lomas apologised and offered the company's ‘condolences’ to Evha’s family.
Having worked at Alton Towers and Porta Ventura, he said the 90-cmminimum height restriction was ‘typical’ to other rides that operated in those perimeters.
When questioned about the lack of water safety equipment, Mr Lomas said:
"If you were to place water rescue equipment, you have to be cautious of where to position it. There has to merit in the full-time team bringing some equipment with them. The concerns of signage either unreadable or missing and guests standing in the boats had not been brought to my attention. The safety equipment on the ride would be an issue for the designer of the ride.I’m not preparing the ride, I’m operating the ride. Guests are instructed to stay seated and hold on to the ring in the middle at the point of getting on the ride and there is also a series of signs and which will be backed up by the tannoy system.” >
Following Evha’s death a Health and Safety Executive investigation was carried out on the Splash Canyon ride.
In their report, they concluded there were no ‘mechanical defects’ with the incident raft and that would’ve contributed to the incident.
"It is acknowledged that parks have to strike the right balance of telling guests a ride is dangerous and telling them it is fun. There was a missed opportunity to put the key safety message on the sign right at the start, where people would be lining up. There were not water safety features on this ride.” >
Evha's family solicitor Sinead Cartwright spoke to the media on their behalf, after today's ruling.