28-year-old Afghan veteran drowns at best pal’s stag weekend

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AN Afghan veteran drowned after leaping from a hotel terrace into a lake during his best friend’s stag weekend.

Tragic Graeme Hartis (corr), who was due to be best man at the wedding, lost his life after plunging into the lake in Slovakia.

The 28-year-old’s death is believed to have been witnessed by the groom, fellow soldier Mark McLean, who could only stand by helplessly as rescuers battled in vain to save him.

Graeme was due to be best man at a wedding.

According to reports in local media, the friends had been drinking before Graeme made his daredevil leap from the Strkovec Hotel.

Territorial Army soldier Graeme, from Glenrothes, Fife, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Lance Corporal with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers was due to go on his second tour of Afghanistan later this year.

The accident happened in Strkovec Lake, in the suburbs of the capital, Bratislava, on Saturday.

Graeme, the third Scot to die abroad in drowning accidents in recent days, had organised the stag trip for Mark.

The Slovakian news website TheDaily.sk reported today that one of the tourists “jumped off the Strkovec Hotel terrace into Strkovec lake”.

They added: “Witnesses said the men were clearly under the influence…but nobody would have expected a harmless prank to end in the loss of the young 28-year old man’s life.

“Witnesses also say the man surfaced and swam a little before he disappeared, which is why nobody expected anything was wrong.

“The man’s friends are obviously in shock and understandably refuse to speak about the incident.”

The website speculated that “a mix of alcohol and the colder-than-expected water could cause a heart attack, or he may have got cramp”.

Graeme’s sister, Laura, paid tribute to her brother on her Facebook page, writing: “It wasnt a party if Graeme wasn’t there. Will never be the same without him xx.”

Friend Graeme Smith wrote: “One of the nicest guys I have ever met.

“I had the absolute pleasure of growing up with this guy, sharing some of the best times a guy could ever have.

“Graeme, I am so proud to have been your friend, you will always remain a brother to me.”

An Army spokeswoman said they would be providing support for the family and friends of Graeme at what she called this “terribly sad time”.

She said: “It is with great sadness that we heard of the death of Lance Corporal Hartis.

“This must have come as an immense shock to his friends, family and colleagues in the Royal Engineers and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this terribly sad time.

“We will, of course, be providing full pastoral and welfare support to his family as and when they require it and the regimental family will be there for them also.”

Another Fife TA soldier, who served with Graeme in Cyprus, said: “He was a decent bloke. He was a vehicle mechanic with the REME.

Afghanistan

“He served in Gulf War Two and Afghanistan  and was due to go to Afghanistan later this year.”

The 28-year old also worked as a driver with Bradford-based Driver Hire Group Services Ltd and with the Montgomery Hotel Group as a barman.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said they were helping Graeme’s family.

She said: “We can confirm the death of a British national in Bratislava on June 23. We are providing consular assistance.”

Talented jockey Campbell Gillies, from Haddington, East Lothian, died yesterday in what his agent Paul Brierley said was a swimming pool accident.

He had been on holiday with fellow jockeys in the Kavos resort in Greece when tragedy struck days before his 22nd birthday.

Just weeks before he had celebrated the greatest win of his career, as he rode Brindisi Breeze to victory at Cheltenham.

Apprentice decorator Owen Ford, who had won awards for his wok, died in a separate tragedy in Ibiza at the weekend.

The 19-year-old from Perth was found floating face down in a swimming pool at the Cala de Bou apartment complex.

It is thought his mother Jackie is flying to Ibiza today (wed) to bring his body home.

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