Clacton tombstoning injured is critical

A FORMER soldier who died after jumping into the sea from Clacton Pier in a suspected alcohol-fuelled prank with friends had moved to the resort to escape his drink problem, a neighbour said.

A FORMER soldier who died after jumping into the sea from Clacton Pier in a suspected alcohol-fuelled prank with friends had moved to the resort to escape his drink problem, a neighbour said.

John Castlemaine, who leapt from the pier in fine weather intending to swim to shore, was instead swept underneath the structure with a St Osyth man, who remains critically ill in intensive care at Colchester General Hospital.

Three other men who also jumped from around three quarters along the 1,180ft pier managed to swim to shore safely.

All of the men had been drinking together before the incident, witnesses said.

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Mr Castlemaine, who was in his 40s and lived in a bedsit on Clacton's Marine Parade East, was caught up in a strong rip tide beneath the Victorian structure and was swept through it into chilly waters north-east of the pier.

As well as being taken along the coast, witnesses said he was also taken further out to sea by the ebbing current. High tide had been approximately 45 minutes before the incident, which happened at around 6.30pm on Saturday.

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Thames Coastguard requested an immediate launch of both of the Clacton RNLI lifeboats, called out the Clacton Coastguard rescue team and scrambled a Sea King rescue helicopter from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk.

When search and rescue units arrived, the police and ambulance services were already there. The rescue helicopter landed on the beach and after paramedics had administered treatment airlifted the two men to hospital.

Mr Castlemaine was later pronounced dead.

Yesterday coastguards insisted that the jump into the sea was not being treated as an example of tombstoning, a craze in which people jump from cliffs or other structures for thrills, normally at pre-designated times and with the knowledge there may be rocks close to the surface.

Dean Gray, who runs the pitch and putt golf course close to the pier, said yesterday he had felt “helpless” as the drama unfolded off the coast a short distance from where he was working.

“I heard a policeman shouting 'come back' from the pier. Then I saw two guys floating in the water, being dragged along by the current. One was shouting loudly for help, but the other was taking in water - you could hear it in his voice.

“They were about 15ft from the pier. They were hundreds of yards out and then they got caught by the current and started to drift. My son called out the coastguard. The weakened man went under, and was under quite a while.

“Another man jumped in with a life belt, one of the safety rings, but he couldn't get to them because the current was so strong. He was rescued too.

“The coastguard came and got them out, and took them to shore. There were about 200 people standing there watching.

“It was terrible to watch. It certainly appeared that they had been drinking.”

Alan Lane, 60, a regular fisherman at the end of the pier, said: “They jumped from where there is a sign saying 'no jumping'. If it had been a low tide they would have been stuck in London clay.”

Mr Lane said it was not uncommon for people to jump off the pier despite the clearly displayed warnings.

Michael Lee, a friend and neighbour of Mr Castlemaine, said: “Apparently they had all been drinking in the afternoon, I think at the Cockney Pride at the coast end of the pier, and someone suggested they go and jump in the sea.

“Jonjon, as he was known, was ex-Army but had a drink problem. That's why he moved to Clacton from London a few years ago, to try and get over it.

“The cold water would have got to him quickly. He only weighed about eight-and-a-half stone, because when you drink that much you stop eating.

“He had had a lot of tragedy in his life. He lost his daughter a year or so ago. Jonjon was a very nice person and a very kind and generous man.”

Robert Caines, the officer in charge of the operation for Thames Coastguard, said: “The two men were unconscious when they were brought to shore.

“They jumped off the pier, but this is not tombstoning. It was not planned in any way. It seems someone just said 'let's jump off the pier'.

“People should not jump from piers. It's mainly high spirits that causes it, and the sea looks inviting, but people should be aware the water can be very chilly even at this time of year and there are unpredictable currents and tides. The safest way to enter the water is from the beach.”

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