Wrecclesham salesman Rodney James, 28, drowned in full view of his family after a boat he was rowing capsized and sank in 15 feet of water, a Basingstoke inquest heard on Tuesday .
Despite a brave attempt by family friend Yvonne Smutts, who dived in to help locate it, his body wasn’t found for an hour.
Describing how the tragedy unfolded on Saturday, May 27, Dale James, said family members had gathered by a lake at Oaktree Farm and Rodney, his second cousin, arrived with his mother at 3.30pm.
About 30 minutes later, he added, he joined some children, wearing life jackets, in a wooden rowing boat “and when I brought them back to shore, Rodney jumped in the boat and we started rowing across the lake.
“Rodney was at one end and I was at the other and we went up and down the lake a few times and then I suggested sitting next to Rodney and rowing side by side, just for a bit of fun.
“Rodney was rowing with one hand and had the other on the boat, as it was a little wobbly.
“I was using two hands to row. I asked him why he didn’t use two hands and he said he was just trying to stay in the boat.”
It was at that point, he said, that the boat went into the water and they fell in and his cousin, who was wearing a shirt and jeans, began treading water, he told the inquest.
He couldn’t swim but he didn’t shout or seem to panic. The family, not realising how serious the situation was, were encouraging him from the shore.
“I was struggling and I began to make my way to the boat, I was treading water but unable to stand on part of the boat. I saw Rodney in the water but he didn’t shout and I don’t recall seeing him struggling.
“I tried to make my way to the shore but Rodney went under the water. Yvonne Smutts jumped in and another member of our party came over with an
inflatable life jacket and I put it on and I got out of the water.
“Yvonne was still in the water looking for Rodney and then an ambulance arrived. Until then we had all been in good spirits and it was a happy family day.”
In her statement Ms Smutts said she arrived at the lake at around 3.45pm, by which time about 30 people were there.
“I was sitting with Rodney’s sister and having a drink and I saw Rodney and Dale on the boat sitting side by side, and next thing they had fallen in.”
“The boat was on its back submerged. Neither seemed to be struggling and I saw Rodney. He wasn’t shouting, although his sister, Laura, told me he couldn’t swim.
“He seemed to be treading water for five minutes and Neville, one of the
family, asked if anyone could swim.
“I said I could and he asked me to go in.”
The water was cold and murky and she couldn’t see Rodney, she added. “But I saw some shoes and I hoped it was him but I couldn’t find him.”
South Central Ambulance Service was called to the scene at 4.49pm and an air ambulance at Thruxton was alerted.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service sent four appliances from Alton, Basingstoke, Fareham and Rushmoor, along with support vehicles.
It was thought Mr James had been in the water for around an hour before he was rescued. Paramedics fought hard to resuscitate him, but he was declared dead at the scene at around 6.15pm.
North East Hampshire Coroner Andrew Bradley said the deceased was a healthy, sober young man and no trace of drugs or alcohol had been found in his body.
“Rodney had inhaled a lot of fresh water and drowned and I record a verdict of accidental death. I wish to express my sympathy to the families.”
Mr James worked for SDS Matting, a firm run by his father Alan James, 61, his brother Simon James, 40, and fellow director Angus Bazlinton, 49.
The company, based in Alton, specialises in entrance matting installation, and has completed projects at airports, railway and bus stations and large commercial offices.
In a tribute to Mr James, a spokesman for the business said: “Rodney will be remembered by all who knew him as a helpful and friendly young man.
“Here at SDS Matting, we will all miss his positive attitude and humorous quips.”