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Man killed as Strangford Lough sailing trip ends in tragedy

A man died and three others, including two young children, have been rescued after their boat capsized on a sailing trip which turned to tragedy.

The boy and girl, aged four and six, and their father were uninjured, but they watched in horror as a family friend was dragged unconscious from Strangford Lough on Saturday morning.

The dead man, understood to be in his late 40s and from Dundonald in east Belfast, was wearing a lifejacket that failed to inflate.

A post-mortem examination is taking place today to establish the cause of death. Police were unable to confirm the man’s identity last night while the family tried to contact his son.

The tragedy unfolded as the foursome were enjoying a day sailing on the lough ahead of the annual Newtownards Sailing Club Regatta, which was cancelled as a result of the incident.

The Portaferry lifeboat, Coastguard and three ambulances rushed to the scene after the alarm was raised by members of a sailing club, who witnessed the small dinghy capsize.

Lawrence Baalham, a sailing instructor from the club, spotted the Laser 2000 dinghy overturned in calm waters, about a quarter of a mile off the coast.

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Mr Baalham, an instructor |for nine years, said it is “quite possible” the deceased had an underlying health condition.

“I don’t think he was underwater at any time,” he said. “Although his lifejacket didn’t work there is a certain amount of buoyancy in the jacket. He was face up when we found him.”

Mr Baalham, the club’s commodore John Clementson and another sailing club member tried to resuscitate him for about 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived.

Mr Baalham said the children and their father were “severely shocked”. “They were all properly kitted with buoyancy jackets, appropriate to their size and age,” he said.

He added they had brought their own lifejackets and had borrowed the dinghy, which didn’t belong to the club. “It is a terrible tragedy. They had taken the boat out on a sunny day,” he said.

Coastguard Rob Steventon said: “The dinghy that the four people were on capsized, we don't know how, but two children and two males were thrown into the water.

“All four were wearing lifejackets, unfortunately the adult male who was in the worst state, his lifejacket didn't inflate. We urge boaters to check their life saving equipment to ensure everything is working correctly.”

Mr Clementson said his thoughts were with the deceased's relatives.

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