Belfast Telegraph

Drowned man's parents take to bikes to thank Foyle team who recovered body

By Leona O'Neill

A heartbroken mother and father have made an epic 300-mile cycle journey from England to Londonderry in a poignant tribute to their son, who drowned in the River Foyle three months ago.

Catherine Ahearne and Chris Comber's 39-year-old son Sam Comber was reported missing in May after his belongings, including his beloved bicycle, were discovered beside the River Foyle at Newbuildings.

It is believed Sam, originally from Leicestershire, went for a dip in the river near his Newbuildings home on May 13 and drowned after getting into difficulties. His body was found near the Craigavon Bridge on May 21.

The cycle from his home town of Hinckley to his adopted home of Londonderry was a tribute to their son and to raise money for search teams at Foyle Search and Rescue, who took care of them in their darkest days.

Mum Catherine said it was an emotional journey at the end of a hugely fraught few weeks.

"Sam came to Derry for a change, a new life and new start," she said. "Derry is between England where his dad is, and Ireland, where I live. He had lived here eight months when he died."

His dad Chris said the family have had to put the pieces of the jigsaw together to discover what happened to their "fearless" son.

"From piecing things together, tracking his phone and CCTV footage we assume that he decided to go for a swim just outside Newbuildings at about 6pm on Sunday," he said.

"He was a very keen swimmer. He loved wild swimming, he did lots of jumping into lakes and off cliffs and into the sea. He was fearless in that regard.

"We just think he must have decided that the water looked inviting. It was low tide, it was very sunny and a warm day. Perhaps he didn't realise how strong the currents were out there.

"He left his bicycle, his socks, shoes and outer clothes and his bag at the water's edge. Someone came across the bag and got Sam's address and tracked me down in England.

"I got a call from police to say that Sam had gone missing. The searches had already started by the time we got here."

Catherine said waiting for news of Sam was "horrendous".

"We took part in the searches. The search teams here were so good. On the Saturday morning after Sam went missing we got the call to say he had been found. It was a girl who was crossing the Craigavon Bridge who spotted his body in the water. It was a relief to have his body back."

As grief and anguish crushed the parents, they decided to give something back.

"Sam loved cycling," said Mr Comber. "He made that journey himself from Hinckley to Derry when he moved here and we wanted to combine his journey with his love of cycling and raise money for the guys who found him.

"We wanted to express our gratitude to Foyle Search and Rescue, not only because they found our son but they looked after us. We were falling apart and they really held us together.

"We cycled from Hinckley to Liverpool, got the ferry over, met Catherine in Belfast then went along the Antrim coast to Derry.

"It was definitely a memorial to Sam. It was very emotional at times, particularly when we went through places we had spent time with him, such as Portrush.

"We had been with him there just the week before he died; that was particularly poignant. It was therapeutic in many ways.

"The generosity and kindness of the people along the route was just astonishing. People stopped us to express their sympathies and complete strangers donated money. It really restored my faith in humanity. I'd like to think that Sam was watching over us as we journeyed."

Catherine said that she felt the spirit of her son travel with them down the country roads along the Antrim coast.

"I know Sam was with us all the way," she added. "I felt him there. He would have loved this."

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