24/07/2013 11:30 BST | Updated 24/07/2013 13:06 BST

River Rescue Tragedy: Tonibeth Purvis, 15, 'Died A Hero' Trying To Save Friend

A teenager who lost her life trying in vain to save another girl from a fast-flowing river "died a hero", a friend has said.

Tonibeth Purvis, 15, jumped in to save Chloe Fowler, 14, who had entered the River Wear at Washington, Tyne and Wear, to cool off.

Tonibeth Purvis, 15, (left) and Chloe Fowler, 14

But, after a huge search and rescue attempt, the bodies of both teenagers were recovered by police dive units on Tuesday night.

Police have since said that one or two other children also nearly drowned trying to help their friends.

Bethany Rose-McCaffrey, 15, was friends with Tonibeth and said she was a role model who had died a hero.

"I knew Tonibeth, she was loving and caring and always put people before her," she said.

"If it had been a friend or a stranger, she would have gone to help.

"I did not believe it was actually her but then I found out that it was. I'm really shocked because I did not think something like this would happen.

"She has died a hero trying to save a friend's life, which shows we really do have friends out there.

"She was loving and caring and put other people before her. She was a really good role model and always had a smile on her face."

The police said Chloe had gone into the water first and then Tonibeth went in to help her friend.

Northumbria Police Superintendent Alan Veitch said: "Chloe went in first, Tonibeth and others went in to help her.

"Tonibeth got into difficulties and so have the others."

Mr Veitch said Chloe, who was from Shiney Row, near Sunderland, got into the water of her own free will.

"The emerging picture is that she went in to keep cool.

"I think there's a lot of children who were trying to effect a rescue. It's difficult for the children who were involved in the actual incident itself as one or two of them nearly drowned."

Chloe's family issued a statement through Northumbria Police today.

It said: "Chloe was a beautiful, kind and caring girl and we as a family are devastated by what has happened.

"We would like to thank everyone involved in helping us to look for the girls. We would ask that we are given some time and privacy to grieve."

Both teenagers died trying to cool off in the river

This morning friends of the two girls have been laying flowers on the riverbank and paying their respects.

Amy Bell, 13, said: "I knew Chloe, she was a fantastic girl and she did not deserve this at all.

"I've come to pay my respects because she was such a lovely girl."

Joss Richards, 13, was in the same school class as Tonibeth.

"She was absolutely lovely," he said.

"She did not have a bad bone in her body, she was really, really nice.

"She had a wicked sense of humour and she always had a cheeky laugh about her.

"I'm really devastated that she has gone."

One card left with flowers said: "RIP Tonibeth you are a hero. We all have so much respect for you."

Another left for Chloe said: "Heaven has gained a beautiful angel who will be greatly missed."

Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said losing a child was every parent's worse nightmare and it served as a reminder of the danger of swimming in rivers.

"This is an absolutely heart-breaking incident, and a tragic reminder of the danger of swimming in our rivers and lakes, which lots of young people are tempted to do in the hot weather," she said.

"Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare, and my thoughts go out to the girls' families and friends at what will be an incredibly difficult time."

The teenagers were in the River Wear at Fatfield, Washington, at around 3pm yesterday when they were swept away by strong currents.