A summer day turned to tragedy for a Midland woman and her friend who died after falling overboard from a Rigid Inflatable Boat, an inquest heard yesterday.
Heather Harris, aged 20, and Richard Perry, 28, had taken the 16ft Humber Rib out for a ride from the Isle of Wight to see a Royal Navy warship moored nearby on July 18 last year.
But after they returned from taking photo-graphs of HMS Severn, the accident happened.
The inquest heard that the weather was good with sunshine, force four winds and a light swell with the tides.
Heather's father, Nicholas Harris, said he and his wife, Diane Moore, with his daughter and her boyfriend, Jason Glazard, had travelled to the Isle of Wight with family friend Mr Perry on July 14.
He said the family had gone to the beach at Yaverland while he and Mr Perry took the Rib to Bembridge and the pair of them rode it in the water to meet up with his wife and daughter.
He said Heather then took the Rib with Mr Perry for a ride to visit HMS Severn at about 1pm. He said Mr Perry, who owned the Rib, was experienced with Ribs and had owned several.
Royal Navy diver Coxswain Kenneth Smith told the inquest he was in a Navy Rib moored alongside HMS Severn when he saw Mr Perry and Miss Harris circle the warship and take photos before leaving at about 1.20pm.
He said he did not see the boat do anything unusual but added: "I thought at first he was maybe coaching her in boat handling techniques."
Jeremy Hellier, a commander in the Royal Navy reserve, was on board a yacht with four cadets anchored near Whitecliff Bay when he saw the pair's orange Rib go past.
He said it went over Bembridge Ledge, an area with rocks below the water surface, but said he could not see anything wrong with how the Rib was being driven.
But he added: "I was concerned they weren't wearing lifejackets as further offshore it was more rough."
Bembridge RNLI lifeboat crewman Simon Cooper said that when they reached the Rib, the throttle was fully open but the engine was off.
He said there was no killcord - a lanyard worn by the driver which cuts the engine if they fall overboard - on board the Rib.
Mr Harris told the inquest that there had been a killcord on board earlier as he had accidentally pulled it and they had had to restart the engine.
The inquest heard that Mr Perry's body was found about one mile from where the Rib and it was taken to St Mary's Hospital in Newport where he was pronounced dead at 4.28pm. Coastguard and police searches continued and Miss Harris' body was not found until July 27. The inquest heard that both Miss Harris, a barmaid, and Mr Perry, an engineer, died of drowning. A post mortem report showed Miss Harris had suffered an injury to her head consistent with hitting something as she fell from the Rib.
Coroner John Matthews said that it was a "mystery" how the pair had fallen from the Rib and recorded an open verdict. Mr Matthews said the only suggestion for how the pair fell overboard was that the Rib hit a wave and threw them out.
He said he believed a kill cord had been used in the vessel and had probably become detached from the body of either of the two occupants when they were in the water.
Speaking after the inquest, Mr Harris said his daughter was a keen extreme sports fan who enjoyed riding quad bikes. He said she was very popular at the Foresters Arms in Wollaston, near Stourbridge, where she worked as a barmaid.
He said: "She is sadly missed. She was just a bubbly, outgoing, fun-loving girl. She liked flash cars with big wheels.
"She was a great barmaid. She will be sadly missed - people in the pub treated her like a daughter."
Mr Perry's mother Margaret Perry, 54, a newly-qualified nurse, said: "He was a really talented engineer who worked hard to get where he was.
"He was kind and caring and a wonderful son and his loss has been devastating to us all.
"We are now trying to rebuild our lives with his little niece."
Edward Perry, 56, an NHS hospital help-desk operator, said: "He was a man of great skill and energy. I was just glad to have known him for 28 years."