Rafter seriously injured by fireworks in Ouseday race

One of the injured rafters. Photo by James McCauley SUS-170714-111100001
One of the injured rafters. Photo by James McCauley SUS-170714-111100001

The future of the Ouseday regatta hangs in the balance after two rafters were injured by fireworks thrown from the riverbank.

Up to 10,000 spectators cheered on 500 rafters and boaters in the biggest regatta

ever seen on the River Ouse.

But the huge crowds also let loose a deluge of missiles that included more than 20,000 raw eggs, flour bombs, tomatoes, and fireworks and even a metal ball.

And a man on a raft crewed by staff from Southern Trains was seriously injured. The crew had just paddled past Tesco store when a firework believed to be a banger or ‘rookie’ exploded beside the rafter’s leg.

The crew steered to the bank where marshals helped him onto land and a medical team took him by ambulance to Brighton.

The rafter, a man in his fifties, was admitted and was due to have operation on Wednesday. Surgeons said the wound might require a skin graft.

A Riffrafters spokesman said: “We have also been notified of a second injury involving a firework. A “rookie” hit a crew member on one of the bonfire rafts, causing leg burns and short-term hearing loss.

“The victim was taken to hospital by his father but not kept in. This is another terrible incident. All information is being passed straight to the police to help with their investigation.”

An Ouseday spokesman said: “Five hundred heroes on the water, 10,000 fantastic supporters on land in Lewes and Newhaven and a handful of idiots with fireworks,hard-boiled eggs, ice cubes and a reckless disregard for the safety of others.

“Our marshals also stopped someone using catapaults to fire missiles.

“We are deeply saddened and angry at what has happened to our rafter. He came for fun and to do something good for his community and instead he is in pain, off work and facing an operation that may involve a skin graft. We have others including safety boat crew with cuts, bruises and even dented engines.

“Safety was always our priority. We planned for months and had 40 marshals and a dozen safety boats, an army of volunteers managed by professionals, but still someone has been put in hospital.

“We will have a thorough review but we cannot continue in the same way unless we can be confident about people’s safety. The huge crowds also mean too much muck is now going into the water.

“We learned that more than 20,000 eggs were sold locally on the day and some people threw plastic bags of flour.

“We do clean up but our goals were to unite the community in fun, raise money for local charities and celebrate our neglected natural asset, the River Ouse. We are now in danger of doing more harm than good.

“Over the past three years regatta has proved how much people can enjoy and value the Ouse, and that is a good thing, but our first responsibility must be to protect good health, of the humans and the river environment.”

Ouseday included a boat parade with singing pirates, three thrilling canoe races, the 42 nd annual Round Table Raft Race with a bumper 30 rafts decorated for the theme Britannia Rules the Waves.

Rafts included battleships, galleons, a fish and chip meal and even The Titanic.

One raft capsized and a rafter was briefly caught underneath before being freed – only metres from the spot where the injured rafter was being taken onto the bank.

Round Table chairman Liam Jackson said: “We had the best turnout for many years and everyone made a superb effort with the rafts. Already we have crews asking to sign up for next year, but at present we are shocked by the injury to the Southern Trains crewman.

“We are keeping in touch and hoping and praying for a swift and full recovery. There is a heritage to this event, which is cherished by generations of local people, but we cannot have people injured in this way.

“Sadly everyone loses through an incident like this, and charities are among the casualties if funds are not raised.”

A spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “Police are investigating an incident when a man was injured by a firework thrown at a raft.

“The man was hit by the firework near the Phoenix Causeway bridge. It exploded and seriously injured his leg.

“Anyone who witnessed the incident, has information or who may have video or photos from the area at the time, is asked to report online at https://sussex.police.uk/appealresponse or call 101 quoting serial 466 of 10/07.”