THE parents of a teenager who drowned in the River Severn have said they miss him like "it only happened yesterday" - ahead of the 10th anniversary of his tragic death.

Ellie and Duncan Ballard have thanked people for their love as they prepare to mark a decade since their son Tony got into difficulty while swimming in the city’s river.

Tony was only 17 when he disappeared under the water after he and three friends raced to swim across the river on the hot summer’s afternoon of June 29, 2009.

His body was pulled from the river but despite desperate attempts to resuscitate the St Peter's student he was pronounced dead at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

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Tony's friends will meet tomorrow to march to the riverside spot known as ‘the beach’ to remember Tony, as they have done every year since 2009.

And they want to warn others on the dangers of swimming in the river as the temperature looks set to soar for the weekend.

His parents said: "We want to acknowledge the love and gratitude we feel for you and all his friends who keep Tony alive in your hearts and have kept us going over the last 10 years.

"We will never be able to thank you all enough.

"Needless to say we miss Tony as if it only happened yesterday."

The friends traditionally meet at Fort Royal Park, where they used to hang out with Tony as it was one of his favourite places, and hold a minute's silence. They then march to the spot near the grandstand at Pitchcroft, releasing flowers on the river in his memory.

Claire Hemingway, a close friend of the teenager, said they and the family were hoping that the anniversary will again put safety around the river in the spotlight, particularly after 18-year-old Tom Jones drowned last September.

The Worcester resident said: "With what happened last year that brought it all back for us, and made it all fresh in our minds.

"Tony was a great friend. Close friends are still struggling with what happened now.

"In the beginning years at the march there were so many flowers, it looked truly beautiful.

"Tony was a wonderful guy with only light in his heart.

"The weather is getting warmer now, it would be awful to have it happen again. We ask that people be cautious and think of the risks before swimming in the Severn, as the loss of Tony was a complete tragedy."

Tony's inquest heard he was a competent swimmer, and friends had swam out and tried to keep him afloat when he panicked. At the time the family called the efforts to save him by friends, emergency services and hospital staff as "heroic".

Duncan was a vicar at St Mark's in the Cherry Orchard, Worcester in 2009 and after the tragedy he thanked the "prayers and compassion" given by the people and churches of Worcester.

The coroner ruled Tony's death had been accidental in September 2009.

The Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) recently held its drowning prevention week initiative, where activities were run for people to learn how to stay safe near water. That initiative was backed by Tom Jones' parents, Vicki and Ian.

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