A passer-by has told how he saved a young girl from drowning in Chasewater reservoir and revealed his sorrow at being unable to help the man who had initially gone to help her.
The local community has been left reeling after the tragic death of a 21-year-old man who who first dived into the water when he saw the nine-year-old girl struggling.
His identity was confirmed by police today as Carl Storer.
Staffordshire Police received a call just before 6pm on Sunday to reports that two people were in trouble in the water at Chasewater, between Burntwood and Brownhills.
The girl was pulled to safety by Thomas Vale, who saw the drama unfold and dived in to help, but Mr Storer, who originally tried to assist, was pronounced dead after being pulled from the water by emergency services.
Mr Vale, a 24-year-old care assistant from Shelfield, near Walsall, was one of the first to spot the pair in trouble and immediately jumped into the water to try to help.
Mr Vale said he was still in shock after the fatal incident and still “couldn’t think straight”.
He said: “We had come down to the beach with the dogs and some friends who had a baby.
"I looked over and thought I could see four kids in the water – they looked like they were playing and laughing but then I kept seeing this one kid go down.
“I could hear screaming and shouting. So I dived in and swam over. There was this little girl who kept going under, she pulled my leg and I pulled her to shore.
“I went back for the lad – I saw him vaguely in the distance but he kept disappearing. I dived again and again but I couldn’t find him.
“The waves were pushing me left right, left right, it was so windy. It was impossible. The water was black. When I got to the girl, you couldn’t touch the bottom there, she was panicking. She was only nine.
“I still can’t think straight. I had to get the little girl first, she was just a baby. I wish I had got him first too but I couldn’t.”
Sgt Fay Mills was at the scene yesterday and said: “What we believe so far is that a nine-year-old girl, who we believe was about 30 to 40 metres out in the water got into trouble in the reservoir and a 21-year-old male has gone in to assist her.
“The young girl made it out safely. Tragically, the 21-year-old man who had gone into support her and save her life, has died.
"It is tragic, he has seen a nine-year-old child in difficulty and he has gone in there to save her – and sadly lost his life.”
Tributes have been paid to Mr Storer on social media, with hundreds sending “love, strength and support” to his family.
MP for Cannock Chase Amanda Milling added her own tribute, saying: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the awful accident at Chasewater Country Park where a young man got into difficulty in the water and tragically lost his life, far too soon.
"I cannot even begin to imagine how heartbroken his loved ones must be and my thoughts go out to his friends and family at this incredibly devastating and difficult time.”
'Glorious weekend turned to tragedy'
Councillor Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, said: “It was with a heavy heart that I heard of the terrible accident that happened on Sunday evening at Chasewater Country Park.
"What should have been a glorious weekend in the sun turned into tragedy, and on behalf of all members and staff at the council, I would like to send our condolences to the family of the young man who has lost his life. I can’t imagine what they are going through at this awful time.”
Emergency services raced to the scene to rescue the struggling man, but he was pronounced dead shortly after being pulled from the water.
A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: “A number of boats and members of the public assisted in the search. Firefighters and members of the Hazardous Area Response Team were committed to the water.
“When the 21-year-old man was recovered, ambulance staff tried everything possible, but sadly it was not possible to save him and he was confirmed dead at the scene. Thankfully a young girl made it out of the water safely and was unhurt.”
Yesterday, visitors to the park were in shock after hearing of the weekend’s tragic events.
One walker, who asked not to be named, said: “It is just such a tragedy. I could not believe it when I first heard what had happened last night.
“It is just devastating for this to happen here and he has lost his life at such a young age. My thoughts are with his family.”
One woman, who only gave her name as Marie, said: “It is tragic. I had been there earlier on Sunday and it was fairly busy because of the warm weather.
“I can’t begin to think what the family and loved ones are going through.”
Runner Jack Hawkes said: “It is no age to lose your life in such tragic circumstances.”
Another walker added: “I walk around here most weeks. You just wouldn’t think someone would drown out there.
“I have seen youngsters swimming off the beach in the past. You get a lot of people having picnics on that beach.”
Some social media users have now called for Chasewater Country Park to be made safer, to prevent another fatality in the future.
There are a number of high profile signs around the water’s edge, but they do not prevent people entering the reservoir in hot weather.
Safety warnings have also been issued repeatedly on the dangers of swimming in open water by Staffordshire County Council and safety organisation Rospa.
Local woman Ali Mowe said: “Such a shame and every year is always the same as the signs are always ignored. They need to drain away the water at Chasewater as it’s always been dangerous. I feel for the young lad’s family.”
Another local, Jane Unitt, said: “I stupidly used to swim in Chasewater when I was younger because I was oblivious to the dangers. It is so tragic.”
And Jo Pearson added: “I know it’s not the right time but why do people do it? My lad lost his best mate two years ago exactly the same. People should take a dip safely somewhere. My thoughts with all the families involved.”
Safety warnings have since been issued on the dangers of swimming in open water.
Back in 2017 15-year-old Spencer Hurst died after getting into difficulty at at Ryders Hayes Mear in Walsall, while swimming with friends during a heatwave.
And 15-year-old Augusto Massampo Zacarias died after swimming in a disused quarry, known as Blue Lagoon, in Lower Gornal in 2012.