Man dies in boat race tragedy

AN investigation is due to get under way today after a powerboat driver was killed during a race off the East Anglian coast.

Ian Stirling, 59, from St Austell, Cornwall, died after the boat he was driving hit a wave and capsized during the race off Dovercourt.

He is believed to have died instantly. His co-driver was taken to hospital with head injuries.

The accident happened during the Harwich Festival of Power – a three-day celebration aimed at boosting the north Essex communities – on Saturday afternoon.

The accident was seen by hundreds of spectators on the coast and in small boats near the heart of the action.

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Suffolk businessman Chris Dawson was on a boat near the course and saw what happened. He took photographs of the aftermath of the tragedy.

He said: “The boat seemed to hit a wave and then just flip over. The driver’s helmet came off and it was clear that he was not going to make it.

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“Both the people in the boat were thrown out. It was horrible.”

Racing was immediately suspended for the day after the tragedy and the racing planned for yesterday was also cancelled as a mark of respect for Mr Stirling.

However, fellow competitors marked his death by laying a wreath at the spot where the charity happened. They went out in formation and then staged a ride-past in tribute.

John Puddifoot, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Powerboat Racing Manager, said: “Mr Stirling was a highly experienced pilot with 25 years of powerboat racing at a European and world championship level. He is going to be greatly missed within the powerboat racing family.”

He said Mr Stirling was competing in the European Championships for offshore powerboat Class 2 litre/3c, when his boat hit a wave causing both Mr Stirling and his co-driver to be thrown into the water. Another vessel was also affected by the wave and another driver was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Mr Puddifoot added: “Our deepest condolences go to Mr Stirling’s long-standing partner and family at this very sad time.”

Event organiser Chris Spraggons said the boat involved had a similar power rating to a Formula One racing car.

“The difference is this isn’t travelling over smooth roads, it is travelling over water where the conditions can change by the second.” Powerboat racing has always been seen as a dangerous sport – but it has become much safer since a series of tragedies in the 1980s.

Mr Spraggons said: “The boats themselves are much safer than they used to be, but you cannot discount the conditions – this seems to have been a freak wave and we have this tragic result.”

There would be several separate inquiries.

The coroner will hold an inquest into Mr Stirling’s death and there will also be a report prepared by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the RYA.

Mr Spraggons said it was too early to say whether this tragedy would affect future powerboat festivals at Dovercourt.

He said: “The aim of this festival was to bring new people into the area and provide some first rate entertainment and regeneration to this part of north Essex.

“We’ll now have to look again at this in the light of the various inquiries – it is far too early to say what bearing it will have on future plans.”

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