AN inquest heard yesterday how friends on a Dales adventure holiday laughed as two girls were swept off their feet by a fast-flowing river.

No one realised that Rochelle Cauvet and Hannah Black were moments from losing their lives after losing their footing during a river walk in the fast-flowing Stain Beck above Ingleton, North Yorkshire, 16 months ago.

One fellow pupil from Royds School in Oulton, Leeds, even remembered seeing Rochelle apparently larking about, turning in the water as she was washed downstream.

But the jury at the hearing in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, heard how the expedition - which set off on a cold, cloudy day in October 2000 - turned to tragedy when both teenagers drowned in the flooded river.

Rochelle, 14, and 13-year-old Hannah, both from Leeds, were among a group of year nine students from Royds.

The school arranged regular trips to a youth hostel near Ingleton, which it used as a base for adventure holidays in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

In a statement, the mother of one girl who shared a room with Rochelle on the trip and saw the 14-year-old being swept away, described how she had written to the school four days before the trip to express concern about high rainfall at that time.

She wrote to Stephen Woods, the teacher organising the annual five-day trip. "I told him I was very concerned about excessive rainfall in September. I told him that, although I didn't want to spoil the children's trip or enjoyment, I asked them to pay extra consideration to the depth and speed of the water as well as the possibility of flash floods."

Parents were reassured at a meeting with staff that no activities would be attempted if there was too much of a risk.

But the youth hostel manager, Mike Tressick, said the Royds group did not request weather information before setting off on the river walk, despite heavy rain in previous days.

Teacher Andrew Miller lead the fateful expedition on October 10, 2000, and was interviewed by police at the scene just over a month after the girls drowned.

His evidence was recorded on video and shown to the jury yesterday - the first day of an inquest that is expected to last three weeks.

Mr Miller told officers the party had gone no more than 100 yards upstream when he first heard shouts of alarm behind him, which he thought could be students in high spirits.

But once he realised they were genuine, he left the river and ran downstream in pursuit of a student who by then he could see was in serious difficulty.

He managed to get hold of the pupil he recognised as Rochelle, but both pupil and teacher were then swept into the water by the current.

Mr Miller managed to grab an overhanging branch, but could no longer hold on to Rochelle.

It was only when he pulled himself exhausted from the water that he first saw Hannah as she too was swept downstream.

Police also videotaped an interview at the scene with fellow teacher Liz Schofield.

She remembered seeing Rochelle being swept passed her and, although she attempted to follow, she could not catch her before the teenager was out of reach.

Ms Schofield had no recollection of seeing Hannah, but added other students helped her rescue a boy who had also been knocked over by the water.

Coroner John Sleight-holme said more video evidence would be given by Rochelle and Hannah's classmates, as well as oral evidence from a number of other witnesses.

But he warned the jury: "This is an inquest and not a trial. What we are here to decide is how these deaths came about. This is a fact-finding investigation and not a matter of apportioning blame."

The hearing continues.

* Last summer, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any of those involved, ranging from teachers to Leeds' director of education