Joel Aniyankunj, 19, and his cousin Jason Varghese, 15, both from Bolton, Manchester, lost their lives while swimming in the Old Danube lake in Vienna during a boat trip on August 23, last year, an inquest has heard. Joel lost his life while trying to save Jason, when he got caught in underwater weeds. Five family members watched helplessly as the cousins were both dragged beneath the surface of the water.
As the boys were 'getting bored', the relatives offered to take them for boating at the popular lake. In a statement their cousin Jerina Pannikadavil said: “My sister, Sherina, and I wanted to go on a boat ride. During the boat ride, Joel and Jason got into the water and swam around. I don't know how far away Jason was, but he had a worried face. I heard him say 'I think I'm sinking.' 'I remember Joel saying 'don't worry, I'm coming to you.' We shouted for help and other swimmers came to help. But before they could reach them, they sunk down. Other swimmers tried to look for them, but it was pitch dark under the water.”
Jason's mother Suby Varghese, a nurse, said: “Jason was a very fit, athletic and a good swimmer.” Suby said that there was no safety measures or life-saving equipment in the area where Jason and Joel died. “If someone had done their job of clearing the vegetation or putting up signs, Jason and Joel would have been alive today.”
Joel's mother Susan Aniyankunj, also a nurse, said: “Joel was very fit and athletic and had been swimming from the age of six and had a number of certificates. He had joined the National Youth Service and gave instructions to other swimmers. He was also an accomplished kickboxer and Bollywood dancer. Since this incident, we came to know that there had been incidents like this before, so they should have taken steps to prevent this.”
Jason's father, Shibu Varghese, said: “Jason really looked up to Joel. He was like a big brother to him. If Joel said something to him, Jason would listen. There was great respect between them. They never argued and they always referred to each other as 'chachon', meaning brother.”
Recording a conclusion of accidental death, Bolton Coroner Alan Walsh said: 'Joel and Jason were likely to have got caught in reeds under the water. Governments will find it difficult clearing natural vegetation which is growing naturally under the earth. You cannot stop rivers meandering around from mountains and you therefore cannot control the vegetation. But, I do agree with raising awareness.”
The coroner said he would write to the Minister of Sustainability and Tourism about the details of Joel and Jason and the Old Danube.