A 15-YEAR-OLD boy drowned after getting into difficulty while swimming in a lake.

The death of Thomas Barton, described as a ‘loyal and caring teenager’, has led to warnings being issued about the dangers of swimming in open water during the current heatwave.

Thomas was with four friends at Birkacre Lodge, in Yarrow Valley Country Park, near Chorley, when the incident took place.

Many of the teenager’s friends gathered at the gates of the council-run park on Sunday evening waiting for news.

And yesterday more returned to the scene to pay their respects.

Thomas’ family said: “Thomas was very much loved and will be terribly missed by all of us. We are devastated.

“His mother Clare has lost her baby boy, and his father Simon has lost his best friend.

“Thomas attended Holy Cross High School, in Chorley, where he was very popular and had lots of friends. He really valued their friendship. At school he enjoyed science and computers.

“He was so good natured and fun loving.

“He also really enjoyed going remote control racing in Blackpool with his father and brothers where they had lads’ days out, and he used to love riding motorbikes and helping his dad repair them."

Thomas is also survived by his sister Rachel, 19, and brothers Matthew, 24, and Robert, 23.

John Taylor, a spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue, said: “We had a report there were five youths, and one had gone under the water and his friends were very distressed about it.

They were stranded on a floating jetty in the middle of the lodge.

“The police, fire and ambulance services attended, and the crews went into the water to search, but did not find him alive.”

Wendy White, headteacher at Holy Cross, said: “Thomas was a terrifically loyal friend, and a very likeable young man who was always ready to help others. He had a heart of gold.”

She said a prayer service would be held to mourn his loss, and celebrate his life.

Thomas’ body was recovered at 11.10pm and retrieved by the police under-water team.

His friends were rescued by the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team.

Paul Durham, from the team, said: “It was very traumatic. We were tasked with rescuing the deceased’s four colleagues, who were stranded on a pontoon in the middle of the lodge.

“It was a pitiful sight, seeing his friends on the platform with their heads in their hands and the arrival of his family.”

Mr Taylor added: “Sadly, the combination of hot, dry weather and the temptation to cool off in rivers, ponds, and lakes, is something that takes a toll in lives on a regular basis.

“It is an extremely hazardous thing to do, as underwater currents, and the shock of the cold water, can mean that even strong, accomplished swimmers can get into difficulty.”