Identification of child's body awaited

RESCUE workers yesterday spoke of their sadness after recovering the body of a 10-year-old child from waters off Clacton beach.

Roddy Ashworth

RESCUE workers yesterday spoke of their sadness after recovering the body of a 10-year-old child from waters off Clacton beach.

The youngster, Stella Akanbi, from Milton Keynes, disappeared beneath the waves on Sunday afternoon as she played in the sea with a friend near the Palace breakwater, about a quarter of a mile south-west of Clacton Pier.

Her friend, also 10, was saved by members of the public who saw both girls distressed and struggling after getting out of their depth.

A huge search operation immediately swung into action following Stella's disappearance, involving members of Tendring District Councils Beach Patrol, HM Coastguard, the RNLI, Essex Police, and the RAF.

But yesterday, at around 3.50pm, the little girl's body was spotted floating not far from where she had been last seen.

Most Read

Coastguards said that a line walk of rescue workers through the water at low tide probably disturbed the lifeless body on the sea bed and caused it to rise to the surface.

Shortly after the line walk it was seen from above by the Essex Police helicopter and pulled from the water by an RNLI crew, who were searching on one of their boats nearby.

The recovery came as a tragic end to a search operation that had been taking place non-stop for almost 24 hours.

Yesterday, a half-mile stretch of normally busy sands between the pier and the Martello Bay were closed to the public while the rescue teams scoured the adjoining waters.

RNLI and coastguard vessels had searched throughout the night, with flares, floodlights and the Essex Police helicopter providing illumination over the sea.

When daylight came, police divers swam below the towns Victorian Pier to see if there was any sign of a body caught underneath.

But the main focus of yesterday's daylight search began at around 2pm, when the tide was at its lowest.

Speaking shortly after the grim discovery, Clacton Sector manager for HM Coastguard, Steve Moffat, said: I can confirm that the body of a young girl has been recovered from the sea fairly close to where the incident happened.

We are assuming that this is the person we have been searching for.

The body has been taken to Brightlingsea, to the coroner's officer, and I understand the parents of the child who is missing have been informed.

All of the search rescue units have now returned to station.

Mr Moffat explained that Stella disappeared under the waves at around 4pm on Sunday when a man who was trying to rescue the two struggling girls also found himself in difficulty.

He said Stella's friend was recovered from the water after a further two other people leapt onto lilos and swam out after they saw all three were struggling.

Mr Moffat said: These two girls were swimming, they were quite happy, but they got out of their depth and started to call for help.

A passer-by on the beach noticed and swam out to them to attempt to recover one of them but didn't get her to the beach.

He lost hold of the girl as he attempted to rescue her.

People on the beach noticed he was in difficulties and grabbed lilos from someone in the hope of rescuing all three.

When they reached one girl, they brought her in, but they could not see the other girl.

We do not know how the man got back to shore."

The man, who was holidaying in Clacton with his 12-year-old son, and the rescued girl were both taken to Clacton District Hospital where they were treated for the effects of taking in water.

He was later discharged but she was taken to Colchester General Hospital where she was yesterday recovering from shock.

Mr Moffat said the conditions yesterday were perfect from a safety point of view. The weather was warm and clear, the sea was calm and visibility was excellent.

He stressed that he believed nobody was to blame for the death and that it had been the result of a tragic accident.

About 60 people from different rescue services, including the police helicopter, the RAF's rescue helicopter from Wattisham, two lifeboats and three of the local councils beach patrol boats, were involved in the search that at one point stretched along six miles of coast.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “Police can confirm that the Essex Police helicopter spotted the body of a child in the water off Clacton about 3.45pm and the RNLI lifeboat has recovered the body.

“Formal identification is still to take place but police believe that is that of ten-year-old Stella Akanbi.

“An investigation will take place into the circumstances surrounding her death, the coroner will be informed and an inquest held in due course.''

Aimee Rampton, Watch Manager at Thames Coastguard, added: “This is such a sad moment for all rescue workers when a child is involved and is finally located.

“We feel desperately sorry for the family at this time and our deepest sympathies are with the Stella's parents.

“We'd like to thank the general public for all their help and assistance in this very sad matter.''