Youth, 17, who drowned trying to save friend was on psychiatric unit trip

Paul Jeeves

A TEENAGER who died trying to save a friend after they were caught by a riptide and swept out to sea off Whitby was on a day trip to the coastal town from a psychiatric unit.

James Samuel Willis, 17, and two 16-year-old girls were believed to have been using an inflatable dinghy when they got into difficulties while on the visit to the resort on the North Yorkshire coast.

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They were on an adult-supervised trip from a medium secure psychiatric unit for youths based on the site of St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It is understood that the three teenagers were being supervised by four members of staff from the unit when the tragedy happened shortly before 1pm on Wednesday after they got into difficulty near Whitby’s West Pier.

The psychiatric unit, called the Roycroft Clinic, is run by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, and a spokesman said yesterday that staff were “devastated” by the death.

The trust spokesman said: “We are all shocked and devastated by the news. We have spoken to his family to offer our sincerest condolences at this difficult time.

“We are fully co-operating with North Yorkshire Police to assist them in their investigation.”

The unit cares for teenagers aged between 14 and 17 who have either come into contact with the law as a result of their mental health issues, or are considered a risk to themselves or others.

James, who was originally from Stockton before moving to Gosforth, had managed to clamber up a ladder on the wall but went back to help one of his friends and was hit by a number of waves.

Humber Coastguard received multiple 999 calls reporting that three teenagers were being swept out to sea near the West Pier.

Whitby Beach lifeguards went into the water to rescue the teenagers, while the Coastguard sent the Whitby Coastguard rescue team, the Whitby RNLI inshore lifeboat and a rescue helicopter from RAF Leconfield to the scene.

James was pulled from the water unconscious and was airlifted to Scarborough District Hospital where desperate efforts to revive him failed.

Both girls were conscious but were very cold and had swallowed a lot of salt water, prompting concerns they had secondary drowning, where water enters the lungs. If untreated, drowning can occur several hours later as the water affects breathing.

They were taken to hospital for treatment for hypothermia and later discharged.

An inquest on James is expected to be opened and adjourned today .

The Coastguard warned other members of the public to be acutely aware of the dangers posed by the sea – especially riptides, which are narrow, powerful currents of water that run from the beach into the sea.

North Yorkshire Police officers were yesterday continuing with an investigation which was launched following the tragedy.

Witnesses are asked to call the North Yorkshire force on 0845 6060247.