CAMBS: Crane operator’s drowning in icy Fen drain was ‘tragic accident’, inquest rules

A MAN wept as he told an inquest about the moment a crane toppled into an icy Fen drain - trapping his colleague inside.

Basil Kent said he could do nothing but watch as the 28-tonne dragline crane plunged into the Counter Drain at Mepal on December 8, 2010.

His colleague Simon Wenn, 43, of Three Holes, a crane operator with more than six years’ experience, drowned in the incident.

Jurors at Huntingdon Law Courts heard yesterday (Monday) that the Environment Agency workers had been desilting the Old Bedford River since early October.

Mr Kent, who was working alongside Mr Wenn from the bank, said the crane was carrying out a procedure to move a timber mat when it slid into the freezing waters.

He said: “I wouldn’t say he (Simon) did anything wrong. He was going round nice and steady like he always did but for some reason the crane slid in.

“The cab was fully submerged. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help so I rang 999.”

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The crane had been positioned on the wooden mats, which had been sanded that morning but were still covered in frost and slippy.

Mr Kent said: “We had done all the checks. Simon was on the ball all the time. If he looked around and a gap was two inches too big he would cut it back two inches. He was very particular. He would always do everything by the book.

“He had spent all that time heaving big buckets full of dirt and the machine never gave one bit.

“If he had said to me at that time that he needed the toilet, I would have got in the machine and wouldn’t have thought anything of it.

“We had gone through the worst bit of dredging when the conditions were even worse. We had come to a nice bit and the ground was level.

“We were thinking to ourselves that we were home and dry. That’s what makes it so hard to take.”

The inquest heard that emergency services reached the drain within 10 minutes.

Rescue teams managed to free Mr Wenn’s head and shoulders from the cab and bring them above the icy water - but his leg was trapped by the crane preventing a full escape.

He was confirmed dead two hours later by a doctor at the scene.

Jurors at today’s inquest returned a verdict of accidental death after taking guidance from Coroner William Morris.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Our sympathy is with the family and friends of Simon who have been so deeply affected by this tragic accident.

“Simon was a reliable, hard-working and conscientious member of our workforce applying himself to whatever task was asked of him. His many friends and colleagues at work miss him too.

“We will be looking in detail at the findings of the inquest and fully co-operating with all investigations related to this tragic accident.”

Geoff Brighty, central area manager for the Environment Agency, said Mr Wenn’s colleagues had since held collections for Magpas, who tried to rescue him.

He told the inquest: “I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Simon’s family. He was a highly valued and much respected member of our staff and is much-missed by his colleagues.”