Boy, 11, found dead in canal had been 'tombstoning', say firefighters
An 11-year-old boy whose body was pulled from a canal was tombstoning from a bridge with a group of friends, firefighters have confirmed.
South Yorkshire Police said the boy was seen entering the canal behind the Parkgate retail park, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, at around 7pm on Thursday but disappeared shortly afterwards.
Specialist emergency services teams, including crews from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, recovered the boy's body at around 11pm.
Watch manager Gary Willoughby, from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said: "This 11-year-old boy was actually taking part in a pastime that boys of his age call tombstoning.
"Unfortunately it's aptly named. It's jumping from unknown heights into unknown depths of water.
"They tend to jump straight into the water. They don't assess the water temperature, they don't see if there are any dangers hidden under the water - shopping trolleys, cars, anything like that, any reeds they might get tangled in.
"They don't even assess how deep the water is before they jump."
Mr Willoughby said: "It's a very dangerous pastime. Unfortunately this boy lost his life. I have heard of other people that end up in wheelchairs for the rest of their life."
He said: "I'd like to send my condolences to his family at this time.
"It's being going on for years and years. Even when I was a boy, people were doing this."
Mr Willoughby said: "My motto is 'no life guard means no swimming'. Stay away from canals and rivers."
He said he was not at the scene last night and could not confirm reports another boy was taken to hospital following the incident.
Asked about the rescue operation, he said: "Unfortunately, not all our firefighters are trained in specialist water rescue.
"We only have two water rescue stations within the brigade - one at Edlington and one at Aston Park - which are some distance away.
"If this boy had been still on the surface then the guys at Rotherham would have been able to use a throw line to get him out of the water."
Mr Willoughby said he was campaigning for locked thrown line boards to be placed along dangerous watercourses with combination locks that can be unlocked by ringing 999.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "His family has been informed and are being supported by officers.
"The circumstances are under investigation."
There was no sign of police activity on Friday morning at the scene of the tragedy.
The rescue operation is understood to have taken place in a stretch of the South Yorkshire Navigation close to a path which crosses the canal over a metal bridge.
The path links the retail park with the Eastwood area of Rotherham but there are no houses or other buildings in the immediate vicinity.
The bridge taking the path over the canal is one of three next to each other also taking the track across the River Don and the main Doncaster to Sheffield railway line, which all run parallel to each other.