Seaford man who broke his neck after diving into stream gives water warning

A Seaford man who broke his neck after diving into a stream is sharing his story as a warning to young people ahead of the summer months.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 3:38 pm
James Hodgkins
James Hodgkins

James Hodgkins is urging youngsters to take care around water as temperatures rise – using his terrifying story to show how a fun day out with friends could so quickly end in tragedy.

He said: “I just wanted to share my story publicly as now is the time of year the weather warms up and youngsters head down to the sea and rivers and dare each other to jump and dive in.

“It’s so easy to just let your guard down and impulsively do something which could kill you instantly or cause paralysis.”

The stream

James was 19 years old when, on May 14, 1993, he and his friend Joe went for a hike to the nearby village of Litlington.

It was a warm sunny day and they soon came across a stream, which was around three metres wide.

James, now 47, recalled: “I suggested on the count of three we both dive in.

“I dived in on the count of three but my friend didn’t.”

Although it was a shallow dive, his head hit the bottom of the stream and James broke his neck.

“I floated down the stream holding my breath, unable to move, with blood pumping out of my head turning the stream red,” James said.

“I wasn’t in much pain but I knew that if I panicked I would drown, so I forced myself to remain calm.”

Joe jumped into the water and managed to drag James out onto the river bank, where he began screaming for help.

Luckily, some walkers heard him and quickly called an ambulance.

An air ambulance was also requested but was unable to attend as it was already out on another job.

James was rushed to A&E at Eastbourne District General Hospital, where he discovered the full extent of his injuries – a fractured skull and a fractured vertebrae in his neck.

He needed 30 stitches in his head and spent weeks in hospital.

James said: “I was extremely lucky because after several weeks in hospital I made a full recovery.

“My injuries normally would of admitted me to Stoke Mandeville Spinal Hospital but the surgical ward at Eastbourne thought they could handle my recovery.”

After being discharged, James had to continue to wear a neck collar for several months.

His spur-of-the-moment decision to jump in the water could have had even more serious consequences – and now James wants to encourage others not to take such risks.

“Have fun but stay safe,” he warned.

‘Think before you jump’ is the message from the HM Coastguard, which has warned against the dangers of ‘tombstoning’ – jumping or diving from a height into water.

Tombstoning is dangerous because water depth alters with the tide, the water may be shallower than it seems and submerged objects like rocks may not be visible.

The shock of cold water may make it difficult to swim and strong currents can rapidly sweep people away.

A spokesman said: “Think before you jump: don’t let alcohol, drugs or peer pressure affect your judgement; even if you’re jumping safely, children may be watching and try to copy your actions.”