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Tour company’s planning failures contributed to paddleboarders’ Pembrokeshire deaths – report

08 Dec 2022 3 minute read
Photos of (left to right) Morgan Rogers, Nicola Wheatley, Paul O’Dwyer and Andrea Powell. Picture by family / PA Wire.

Planning failures by a tour company contributed to the deaths of four paddleboarders in Pembrokeshire, an investigation has found.

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

Paul O’Dwyer, 42, from Port Talbot; Morgan Rogers, 24, from Merthyr Tydfil; Nicola Wheatley, 40, from Swansea; and Andrea Powell, 41, from Bridgend, died on the Cleddau River on October 30 last year.

Mr O’Dwyer, Ms Rogers and Ms Wheatley were declared dead at the scene.

Ms Powell was taken to the nearby Withybush Hospital but died six days later.

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 all drowned when they fell from their paddleboards as they descended Haverfordwest Town Weir.

The MAIB stated that they became trapped in the weir’s hydraulic towback, which is a strong recirculating flow of water.

Investigators found that 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 that the wearing of clothing, buoyancy aids and leashes 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.

‘Tragic and avoidable’

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.

Andrew Moll, 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.”

The PA news agency was unable to contact Salty Dog Co Limited for a response.

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.

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