A British clubber who drowned after being on a party boat in Amsterdam deliberately jumped in the water in what looked like a ‘silly prank’, a witness told an inquest into his death.
Neil Stewart, 30, from Newcastle, died in the North Sea Canal in November 2017. His body was recovered the following month.
The father-of-two’s fiancée Chelsea Dixon had surprised him by arranging the weekend away, which involved flights, a hotel and a Saturday night at the BTID – Bounce Til I Die – dance event on a boat.
An inquest into his death in Newcastle heard he got into an altercation in a smoking area outside and had to be kept away from other guests while he calmed down. In a statement, witness Kirsty Green described seeing him deliberately jump off the boat into the canal.
She said: ‘He was stood alone, smoking and the next thing I saw was him in the air, it looked like it was slow motion, I saw him smiling or laughing.
‘I then panicked and called security.’
Ms Green explained she thought it might have been a ‘silly prank’ because he was laughing in the water.
She added that she saw a light in the water, possibly coming from his mobile phone screen.
Paul Armes, Mr Stewart’s friend and colleague, only realised someone was in the water when the vessel stopped.
He said another guest had told him his pal had climbed three steps and jumped in.
Mr Armes wept as he told the inquest he was first aid and water rescue qualified and wanted to swim over to his friend with a life belt, adding: ‘I just wanted to help him.’
He said he saw a safety boat on top of the vessel that could be used in emergencies, but told the coroner the crew said it was not safe to deploy it.
Another vessel came along side and lit up the water with bright lights, and Mr Armes said he could see Mr Stewart in the water for approximately 10 minutes from when the party boat stopped.
Mr Stewart’s fiancee told the hearing they had earlier met friends who had just got engaged, they had drinks together during the day and Mr Stewart had a few puffs of a joint and eaten some ‘space cake’ containing cannabis at a cafe.
Post mortem toxicology tests revealed he had taken cocaine during the day, the inquest heard.
Ms Dixon said: ‘He was happy and he was having a good time.’ She said she did not see the confrontation in the smoking area but was trying to calm him afterwards.
By the time she went to get a chair to sit with him, he had gone.
Ms Dixon said she did not see him jump, adding: ‘If there was anything else I would wish for in my life, it would be to have an answer to that question.’
Asked if Mr Stewart ever expressed an intention to harm himself, Ms Dixon replied: ‘Absolutely not.
‘Neil told me that morning it was the happiest time of his life. He always said 30 was going to be his year.’
The inquest continues on Tuesday.
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