Friends pay tribute after Gateshead man drowns in lake

The body of Andrew McWilliams, 22, was found in a lake in Gateshead after telling friends he was going for a swim

Andrew McWilliams
Andrew McWilliams

Friends have paid tribute to a fit and healthy young man who was found dead in a lake after telling people he was going for a swim.

Andrew McWilliams, 22, from Lobley Hill in Gateshead, had said he planned on taking a dip with a friend at Watergate Park in Sunniside on Thursday as temperatures reached 24C.

However he is believed to have been on his own when he waded into the water at the busy country park and emergency services were soon called to the scene.

His body was recovered after an extensive search by police divers and he was pronounced dead at 6pm at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

A post-mortem examination will take place on Monday and the Gateshead Coroner has been informed.

As friends rallied today to support his mother Helen, floral tributes and Newcastle United shirts were left at the shoreline in his honour.

Close friend, Yasemin Ayke, 22, who lives in Lobley Hill in Gateshead, said: “I’m devastated to know I was the last friend to see him. I think he was just in the water and he got trapped on something and didn’t come back up.

“He went up to the lake all the time but he’s never mentioned going in the water before or anything like that but when I saw him on Thursday he told me ‘I’m going up the lake to teach a friend how to swim’.

“I said the water isn’t nice and asked him to stay with me but then he just said ‘I’ll see you when I’m back from the lake’.”

Jack Wilson, who went to Whickham School and Sports College, said: “He was such a character and so funny. He was very keen on sports and was a canny lad. I just can’t believe it’s happened.

“He would just come up here all the time or you’d see him out and about running.”

Andrew had lived with his mum Helen for three years at Moorfoot Gardens after moving from Whickham. He was due to begin studying for a diploma in sport at Newcastle College in September.

Friend Thomas Feeney, who played darts with him at The Norwood pub at Cotswold Gardens, said: “Andrew was such a lovely person. He’s never been in the water before and I’ve never known him to go for a swim.”

David Thompson, who set up a Facebook tribute page for his friend, said: “He was a lovely lad who wouldn’t hurt anyone and loved to laugh. He spent his life laughing even when he was down in the dumps. I believe he thought laughter was the cure.”

Today Northumbria Police will continue their inquiries into how he died but have warned people against swimming in open water.

Chief Supt Gordon Milward said: “This is a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of this man at what must be an incredibly difficult time for them.

“They are obviously distraught at what has happened and we’re doing everything possible to support them at this time. Inquiries are in the early stages and an inquest will take place in due course to establish exactly what happened.

“However, it’s important to remind people to take extra care around water such as rivers, lakes and the sea. The water can be particularly cold, even on hot days, and this can have dramatic effects on the body. Open water can be extremely deceptive and while it looks calm on the surface, underneath there may be powerful currents or hazardous debris and underwater obstructions, which pose a risk, even to strong swimmers.”

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