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  • Christina Drummond

Private Jamie Lee Sawyer, 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2015, Private Jamie Lee Sawyer, 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, died while deployed on a six-month United Nations Peace Keeping Tour in Cyprus, based in Nicosia.

Involved in Adventure Training in the Mediterranean, near Cavo Greco in Famagusta, he drowned while kayaking when the weather changed quickly – he was found unconscious in the water, but despite efforts to save him he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The kayak instructor (with thirty-seven years’ experience) had originally been charged with causing death by reckless act but a judge in Cyprus ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him. Two emergency thunderstorm warnings, issued just hours before, had not been picked up by the kayaking expedition before they set off.

A witness at the inquest told how the weather was at first calm and sunny, but in just over half-an-hour it changed quickly and he found himself tipped out of his kayak and pushed towards the rocks. Another witness broke down as he said there was “nowhere to go” with sheer headland on one side and waves up to eight feet high with winds causing a storm surge. The Cypriot police took almost half-an-hour to alert the nearby force rescue boat, and when it arrived those in the boat could see Private Sawyer struggling in the water, but it was ten minutes before they were able to throw him a rescue line as they had to avoid hitting the reefs. He made several unsuccessful attempts to catch the life-ring, and it was only after he had gone under that they managed to get him aboard using a hook. Earlier the instructor had been helping another kayaker and thought that Private Sawyer had reached safety so he did not call the rescue boat.

An official report found faults and poor practice in the way the course was run. The senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said the factors that contributed to Private Sawyer’s death were: “failure to adequately assess the weather forecast before the event began; failure to ensure thunder storms warnings were provided to the regimental adventure training team; and failure to ensure the generic and dynamic risk assessments covered specific hazards, specifically adverse sea conditions in poor weather."

Jamie, from Birmingham, had been in the army for two years and was 20 years old.

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