TRIBUTES have been paid to two Swindon men who died swimming in Bath last month.

Family and friends – including those with Velly Souza and Samuel Fernandes when they drowned – have spoken out in order to correct the record after what they say were inaccuracies in some national media reports of the tragedy.

And they told of their sadness at the deaths of the two Tesco Extra staff members.

Velly’s brother-in-law Karol Fernandes, 33, told the Adver: “Wherever Velly was there was laughter, there was fun. That’s the reason people liked him. He was a grounded person, no discrimination.

“Whoever he came across he used to make friends with them. He was very fast to make friends. He used to get along with people.”

The 25-year-old Goan man had lots of plans for the future, Mr Fernandes said. They included watching his older brother get married in India next year after the wedding was postponed by the pandemic.

The Adver met the men’s Tesco colleagues, who were with the pair when they drowned at Bathampton Weir on Thursday, May 28.

It was a hot day. The six friends – five men and one woman aged 20 to 30 and who have asked not to be named – had initially planned to swim at another spot near Bath but were told it was closed. They were tipped off to the popular swimming spot near Bathampton Weir.

The eldest in the group, a 30-year-old man, was the strongest swimmer and got in the water first to check the depth.

Samuel Fernandes, 20, slipped into the water.

“He swam in the middle then he came back and was resting,” said a 23-year-old friend.

“Velly jumped in from the riverbank and he also came back to us. Our older friend said he was going to the other side of the river. He was swimming. Velly and Samuel tried to follow him but they were quite far.”

The older man reached the far bank.

“It was very hard for me to cross," he said. "Normally I would cross three or four times without stopping. I was struggling to get to the other side. I turned and saw Samuel coming up for five seconds. He was in the middle of the river.”

Velly had already disappeared from view in a tragedy that lasted just seconds.

The fifth man, 26, who had been standing in the waist-high water by the near bank saw the horror unfold in front of him.

“I saw Velly and Samuel were struggling," he said. "I didn’t know what to do so I just went forward but I didn’t see there was no ground beneath my feet and I started drowning as well,” he said.

“I saw Samuel’s face. I didn’t know what to do. I just went forward.

“The current was so high it was pulling me down. I was looking at them then when I went underwater. Then I came back up and I couldn’t see them. They had already drowned.”

His life was saved by another swimmer, a Polish man who managed to slide a float to him. He grabbed onto the lifeline.

“I thought I wouldn’t survive," he said. "I’d drunk water. I was exhausted. I said to myself I can’t take this anymore.”

The emergency services were at the scene within minutes, although it wasn’t until later that day the bodies of Velly and Samuel were recovered from the water. The man who had tried to go to the aid of his colleagues was taken to the Royal United Hospital, Bath, and was discharged later that evening.

Speaking in Swindon two weeks after the tragedy, the friends said they had been shocked to read some details of the incident reported in the national news at the time. They said claims that Samuel had jumped to Velly’s aid were incorrect, nor was the latter getting married.

It is clear that the survivors of the group that travelled to Bathampton remain shell-shocked. And nothing can replace the friends they lost that day.

One of the men, 23, said Velly was his best friend. They worked together most of the week and would meet up on their rest days to relax in the park.

He said: “He was a funny guy. He was a loud guy. Everybody in the store would know he was there.”

Another, 30, paid tribute to Samuel: “He was a quiet guy. He had a fun side – he knew how to have fun. He was very caring as well.”

The friends called for better safety signage at Bathampton Weir, saying it was not until they returned to the spot days later to place candles and peeled back vegetation that they could see signs warning of strong currents.

The sign said: “Danger: strong currents”. One of the men said: “If I had seen that sign I wouldn’t have gone into the water.”

The deaths have shocked Swindon’s close-knit Goan community. An online fundraiser set up by a former colleague at Tesco has raised more than £24,000 to support the men’s families.

Imtiyaz Shaikh, a Swindon Borough Councillor in the central ward, said: “This has been a big shock to our community. It is really sad to see two young men leaving their families. It is not just our community, I know they were well known in Swindon.”