Three boys aged eight, 10 and 11 have died after falling through thin ice at a lake near Solihull in the West Midlands.
A fourth boy aged six was in a critical condition in hospital after the incident on Sunday afternoon. All four children went into cardiac arrest when they were pulled from the lake at Babbs Mill Park, a nature reserve in Kingshurst.
Emergency crews were initially told six people had been seen on the ice, and search operations continued on Monday.
Members of the public, police officers and firefighters were the first to try to pull the children to safety, some wading into the icy water up to their waists. The four boys were then reached by specialist water rescue trained firefighters.
A policeman had tried to break through the ice and suffered mild hypothermia as a consequence.
Those pulled from the water were given immediate life support by ambulance and fire services before being taken to two hospitals in Birmingham; Birmingham Children’s and Heartlands, where they all arrived in a critical condition.
Speaking at a press conference at the scene on Monday afternoon, Supt Richard Harris said the families affected were understandably “absolutely devastated”, especially as it was so close to Christmas. – We support the families. We have specialist trained officers liaising with the families at this time to offer as much support as we can.”
He said the search for the lake would continue, but there were no reports of anyone else missing beyond the four boys. “We need to be 100% sure there is no one else possibly in the water at this time. We will be here as long as it takes.”
West Midlands Fire Service area chief Richard Stanton said: “The boys’ deaths are a tragedy beyond words. Yesterday’s incident is a stark reminder to us all of the dangers of open water, especially during the winter months. Frozen lakes, ponds, canals and reservoirs may look picturesque, but they can be deadly.
“There are no greater warnings of this than yesterday’s tragic events. We ask parents and carers to remind their children of the dangers of ice and why they must stay away from it. Please help us prevent this from happening again.”
St Anthony’s primary school in Kingshurst, a few minutes’ walk from the park, said it would be closed on Monday because of the incident. It asked people to keep those affected in their prayers.
Throughout the day, members of the public brought cups of tea and mince pies to the large number of emergency services involved in the incident and its aftermath. Following the news of the deaths, a number of people laid flowers.
Marcus Brain, a local councillor, told BBC Radio WM it was a very close-knit community with families going back five generations. “The mood is very somber,” he said. – Everyone is completely devastated.
Saqib Bhatti, Member of Parliament for Meriden, praised emergency services for their efforts to pull the children from freezing water. He said: “Obviously there’s an officer who has mild hypothermia. In those conditions, it’s heroic to not worry about your own safety and just go after these kids.
“The [search] the operation went on all night in these really tough conditions. The whole society will feel the pain of this. I just hope we get some good news.”
Ian Courts and Karen Grinsell, leader and deputy leader of Solihull Council, also praised the bravery of the emergency services’ rescue team.
Courts said: “This is about as bad as it gets … a terrible situation. We are completely stunned by what has happened. We are still waiting for more news. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers must be with the families in this situation. I can hardly imagine what the families are going through.”
Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, described the incident as “deeply disturbing”. He added: “My thoughts go out to all the families affected and our incredibly brave emergency workers who have responded to such a disturbing scene. I know we will all be praying for the children to be okay.”