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Mother's last act was to save her son

PUBLISHED: 09:34 14 January 2009 | UPDATED: 07:54 01 August 2010

A DROWNING mother's final desperate act was to save her eight-year-old son before she died, loved ones said last night.

A coroner's inquest in Norwich heard how teacher Amie Rae Drennan, 30, of Carlton Colville, Suffolk, died after a 12ft dinghy overturned in the River Waveney, at Wainford, near Bungay, in August 2007.

A DROWNING mother's final desperate act was to save her eight-year-old son before she died in the River Waveney at Bungay, family members said this week.

After a coroner's inquest in Norwich had heard how teacher Amie Rae Drennan, 30, of Carlton Colville, died after a 12ft dinghy overturned in the River Waveney, at Wainford Road, last August, family members said their only consolation lay in the knowledge that even as she fought for her own life, she was able to push her son Tor Dalley below the current and to safety.

Her brother John Phillips said: "Immediately after it happened Tor told us: 'I drowned twice but mummy saved me'. It seems she managed to get a hand to him and that was enough to take him to the surface.

"In those final few seconds, in the whirl of what was happening, her natural maternal instinct took over and she managed to help save her son.

"His last memory is of her doing everything she could to save him, even though there was nothing she could do to save herself. That's something he can hold on to forever."

At the time of the fatal incident Amie Rae had been enjoying a day out with her son Tor, now nine, her boyfriend Christopher Thrower and two friends when the boat capsized after being pulled into a sluice by a strong current. The group then became caught in a "whirlpool" which repeatedly dragged them under. Miss Drennan was unable to swim free of the torrent.

Reliving Miss Drennan's last moments, Mr Thrower said: "We had just relaunched the boat and could not get the engine started. Suddenly we realised we were being pulled towards the weir and there was nothing we could do.

"Within seconds the boat was filling with water and was dragged under. I remember being swept around as if in a washing machine.

"Then I remember seeing Tor come to the surface and managed to grab him and lob him to Andy Dack, who had also been in the boat and was wearing a life jacket. He managed to get him to safety."

Tor could then only watch his mother "floating down the stream" with her "face down".

Miss Drennan's body was found on August 26, the following day, after a police search of the area downstream of the weir at Wainford.

Coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death following the inquest at Norwich's Assembly Rooms.

Aided by passers-by Matthew Weavers and Hannah Jackson offering towels to grab hold of, the rest of the group managed to clamber to safety.

Miss Drennan was described by family as "intelligent, witty and multi-talented" and someone who "always saw the good in people".

Shortly before her death the folk band member and Mr Thrower had begun transporting aid to the Third World in an old army truck - something which was said to be typical of her charitable nature.

Her mother, Carole Drennan, said: "I feel this world is a sadder place without Amie; if only we could all take a little piece of her ideals with us, not judge people by what they look like and follow her ideal that if we cannot do a good turn for anybody, do not do a bad one."

The family asked Environment Agency representatives about safety measures which were in place at the time and those which have since been put in place. They claim there were insufficient warning signs, no life belts and nothing to aid people who became caught in the current.

Dr Charles Beardall said steps have since been taken to address these issues, including fencing to stop people getting too close to the water and "grab chains" so they can pull themselves free. The area is used legitimately by canoeists and anglers but swimmers and motor boats, which are prohibited, also use it.

Outside the inquest he said: "We can always improve safety and we have learned a lot about what was going on around the weir and, as a result of this, work has already been carried out."

Mr Armstrong said the agency had listened to and addressed the family's safety concerns over the stretch of river, although it had not done anything wrong in managing the site.

The inquest was told Miss Drennan taught at a private school in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Mr Phillips said the family was now focused on helping her son. "We are concentrating on Tor," he said. "The important thing now is Amie's memory lives on and we're there to support Tor." Tor lives with his father James Dalley.

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