Haverfordwest paddleboarders: Report says tour company's planning failures contributed to deaths

(From left) Paul O'Dwyer, Andrea Powell, Nicola Wheatley and Morgan Rogers were killed during the incident. Credit: Family photographs

Planning failures by a tour company did contribute to the deaths of four paddleboarders, an investigation has found.

Morgan Rogers, 24, Nicola Wheatley, 40, and Paul O’Dwyer, 42, died in the incident on 30 October 2021 following an incident in the River Cleddau, in Haverfordwest.

Andrea Powell, 41, from Bridgend, was taken to Withybush Hospital and died a week later.

A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found the people who led the tour during which the deaths happened "did not have the training, experience or qualifications" required.

"The planning and preparation for the tour were inadequate and had overlooked both the active food alert for the river and the risk posed by the weir," according to the report.

It continued: "The tour leaders were experienced paddleboarders who had undertaken training as instructors; however, they did not have the training, experience, or qualifcations to lead itinerant tours, and their pre-tour planning and reconnaissance did not identify the hazard posed by the weir."

The river Cleddau in Haverfordwest where four people after a group of paddleboarders got into distress. Credit: PA

They were part of a group of nine people who were on a paddleboarding tour led by the owner of a company named Salty Dog Co Limited with the assistance of an "associate" and another leader.

The victims drowned when they fell from their paddleboards as they descended Haverfordwest Weir.

The MAIB report found they became trapped at the weir by the hydraulic towback, which is a strong recirculating flow of water.

Haverfordwest weir was deemed to be an "extreme hazard" by the MAIB report Credit: MAIB

Investigators found the tour leader had conducted a reconnaissance of the route two months earlier when the river conditions were "benign".

The leaders did not visit the weir on the day of the accident and were "unaware" of the high river level, tidal conditions and flood alert in force at the time.

The report noted the clothing, buoyancy aids and leashes worn by the paddleboarders did not follow recognised guidance.

Investigators also noted that signage on the river did not adequately alert participants to the risk of the weir.

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.

"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.”

Flowers were left near the scene of the incident last year. Credit: PA

A safety recommendation was made to Dwr Cymru Welsh Water in conjunction with the relevant authorities to conduct an immediate risk assessment of the hazard posed by the weir and "implement control measures" to mitigate the danger such as signage, railings and warning buoys.

A Welsh Water spokesperson said: “We are aware of the findings of the MAIB’s investigations and our thoughts are with those who were involved in this tragic incident.

"We are working with other agencies to complete the risk assessment of the weir in Haverfordwest town centre.

"This will support the wider recommendations in the report which will help highlight the dangers and reduce the risks facing those who use the river so that we can help avoid such tragedies in the future.“

A woman from the South Wales area was arrested on November 6 last year on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter.

She was released under investigation.