Tragedy hit a popular North East family attraction when a young boy died in an accident involving a steam traction engine.
Police and the Health and Safety Executive have launched a joint investigation after the seven-year-old died at Beamish Open Air Museum yesterday.
Emergency services were called to the museum, near Stanley in County Durham, just before 3pm after the boy fell from a steam traction engine and was hit by its trailer.
Families celebrating the start of the school holidays were asked to leave and the museum was closed after the boy, who was not a visitor and is thought to be a regular volunteer at the museum, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Inspector Steve Dowdle, of Durham Constabulary, said: “This afternoon police were called to the museum by the ambulance service just before 3pm. A seven-year-old boy had been involved in an incident with a steam traction engine and trailer and had been pronounced dead at the scene. He appeared to have suffered serious head injuries.
“The engine driver was taken to hospital suffering from shock and will be spoken to by police at an appropriate time and is being treated as a witness.”
It is believed the young boy, who is not being identified but was believed to be with his father, had been on the steamroller vehicle but fell off the back and was hit by the trailer.
A spokesman for the North East Ambulance Service said: “We got a call at 14.48 for a young child who had been hit by a kind of steamroller-type vehicle, a traction engine.
“The crew attended and unfortunately it was a fatal incident. I believe the child was hit by a trailer at the back of the vehicle. There was nothing paramedics could have done at the scene. On this occasion we could not help the child.”
The ambulance service confirmed they took the boy’s father to the University Hospital of North Durham to be treated for shock.
Visitors were evacuated and detectives and road policing officers were at the scene trying to establish what happened. It is believed the boy is from the County Durham area.
Lester Clarke, from Teesdale, County Durham, who was leaving the museum with his wife Louise and two children, said: “We heard an announcement at five past four saying there had been an incident and asking visitors to leave.
“People trooped out quietly, there was no panic or anything like that. I would guess there were around 1,000 people there when we were asked to leave.”
Martin McGilloway, 19, from Derry in Northern Ireland, said: “I was sitting on a tram with my girlfriend when a radio announcement came over that there had been an incident and that the museum was closing immediately. That is all we know.”
Richard Evans, director of Beamish Museum, said: “We are naturally very shocked, and our thoughts are with the boy’s family at this time.
“We took an immediate decision to close the museum for the rest of the day as we support the joint investigation.”
The Health and Safety Executive confirmed it had been informed and was in attendance yesterday.
The news shocked people in the region and tributes were pouring in for the boy on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.
Police are asking witnesses to come forward to help with the investigation by calling 101 and asking for the priority dispatch team.