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Canoeist Chris Wheeler died in swollen river as friends tried to save him

What Happened
Person trapped by vessel/vehicle
What Caused
Adverse environmental conditions
Casualty type/Qty
Causal Factors
Adverse current
Injury Details
Accident suspected

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Description of Incident
A canoeist who died after becoming trapped by flood waters has been identified as police continue to search for a young woman swept away on another river.

Chris Wheeler, 46, was pinned beneath a tree on a remote stretch of the River Dart at Mel Tor near Newton Abbot.

Two fellow canoeists fought to free him as the river was turned into a raging torrent during heavy rainfall on Saturday afternoon.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We were called at 4.30pm to a report of a canoeist trapped against a tree. Two other canoeists were trying to keep him upright within the canoe.”

Rescue teams spent two hours battling to cover the five miles from the nearest road. The two other canoeists, both from the South East, were rescued and taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

The police spokesman said: “It is an area where people go when the river is in flood to experience a bit of white water.”

Mr Wheeler, from Reading, Berkshire, was known by the nickname Magic Knees after dislocating both his knees in the 1980s. He had canoed around the world for more than 25 years.

Mr Wheeler, a partner in a firm of chartered surveyors and property consultants, was also an instructor and writer and contributed articles to Canoe and Kayak UK magazine. The magazine’s website describes him as a dedicated kayaker.

“Chris has been writing about the sport for ten years and he edited and wrote much of the South East section of the guidebook English White Water,” the website says.

Robert Steemson, head of recreation, rangers and estates for Dartmoor National Park Authority, said that Mr Wheeler had been part of an eight-strong group of experienced canoeists.

“The bit of river between Dartmeet and Newbridge is one of the best bits of river in the country,” he said. “You have to be a very experienced canoeist to go down on that piece of river.”

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old woman was feared to have been carried away by the River Usk in Brecon, South Wales, at about 7pm on Saturday.

Her boyfriend told police that she had slipped into the river near Watergate Bridge during a night out together. Police do not know how she came to fall into the river but it is believed she may have wanted to see the fast-flowing river but slipped on the muddy bank.

Inspector Mark Davies said: “The conditions of the river bank are very slippery and muddy. People should stay away from the water’s edge.

“The last thing we would want is for someone else to end up in the river. That could make the situation even more difficult.”

Police, fire service and mountain rescue immediately conducted a search of the river and the riverbanks but had to call off their efforts last night because of the weather and darkness.The search restarted at first light.
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