Teenage son of boating boss from fifth-generation riverboat family is killed after falling from ferry and under propeller

Tragic: Ben Woollacott who was killed today when he fell from the Woolwich Ferry in South East London and was caught under the propeller

Tragic: Ben Woollacott who was killed today when he fell from the Woolwich Ferry in South East London and was caught under the propeller

The 19-year-old son of a Thames cruise boss was killed today when he fell from a ferry and under its propeller.

Ben Woollacott, of Kent, died in the horrific accident after falling from the Woolwich Ferry, while mooring ropes were being untied.

A London Coastguard spokesman said they were called at 6.10am in response to a man overboard radio alert.

Paramedics treated the crewman when he was pulled from the Thames, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ben's father was said to be distraught. A friend said: 'It's such a tragic loss.

'They are a very well-respected family on the river.

'Ben was following in his father's footsteps and he was a very enthusiastic young boy. It's a tragic loss to the whole community on the river.'

Woollacott, who came from five generations of Thames boatmen, was learning the family trade on board the Ernest Bevin ferry when he fell into the river.

His father is Stephen Woolacott, owner of Cruise London, which runs riverboats that travel along the Thames for sight-seeing and corporate events.

Flags on board the ferry, which was not running after the tragedy, were flying at half-mast as a mark of respect.

A Transport for London spokesman said: 'At around 6.10am the Woolwich Ferry, operated by Serco on behalf of TfL, was involved in a fatal incident with a male staff member.

'Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

'Emergency services attended the scene. The Woolwich Ferry will remain closed, pending a full investigation into the incident.'

Woolwich ferry carries passengers and cars across the River Thames, in south east London.

River police: Officers attend the scene at the Woolwich Ferry after the incident in which Ben Woollacott was killed

River police: Officers attend the scene at the Woolwich Ferry after the incident in which Ben Woollacott was killed

Tributes: Friends and family with flowers at the scene where Ben Woollacott was killed today

Tributes: Friends and family with flowers at the scene where Ben Woollacott was killed today

A London Coastguard spokesman said it was believed the teenager fell while mooring ropes were being untied.

Police said a post mortem would be held in 'due course'.

Shut: The Woolwich Ferry was closed after the accident and will remain so until an investigation is complete

Shut: The Woolwich Ferry was closed after the accident and will remain so until an investigation is complete

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: 'The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), within the Department for Transport, has been informed.

'Officers from Greenwich Borough will be liaising with the MAIB whilst inquiries continue into the circumstance of the incident.'

Martin Garside, of the Port of London Authority, said: 'A patrol boat responded to a "man overboard" radio alert from the Woolwich ferry.

'The crew of the patrol boat then assisted the crew of a small workboat to recover a member of the Woolwich ferry crew who had fallen into the water.

'The injured crew member was then taken to the Woolwich ferry south terminal where ambulance paramedics were waiting.

'Despite the efforts of paramedics and doctors, we regret that the crew member was declared dead at approximately 7am. An investigation into the circumstances of the accident is now under way.'

Transport Minister Norman Baker said the accident was 'deeply sad'.

The body was taken ashore by the coastguard. Ben's father is understood not to have been working on the Ernest Bevin at the time.

Service: The Woolwich ferry carries more than one million cars and 2.5 million people across the Thames every year

Service: The Woolwich ferry carries more than one million cars and 2.5 million people across the Thames every year

Woollacott, from Swanley in Kent, had one year remaining of his four-year apprenticeship and had impressed bosses with his river skills so much that he was offered a full-time job.

One family friend of the Woollacotts, who asked not to be named, said: 'It's such a tragic loss.

'The ferry takes on two apprentices a year, they self train them to a very high standard. Ben was one of the apprentices and offered a full-time position after he obtained his boatmaster's licence.'

'It's a traditional father to son industry that goes back five or six generations.'

Regular Woolwich ferry passengers commented on the accident on Twitter. One user, Darryl Chamberlain, said: 'Terrible news about the Woolwich ferry death. The staff there are always great, always seemed a close-knit bunch.'

A ferry service has operated at the same spot on the Thames for hundreds of years.

Three vessels servicing the route carry more than one million cars and 2.5million people every year.

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