BBC producer and former head of the Africa Service; Born March 30, 1954; Died June 27, 2007. KARI Blackburn, one of the BBC's most respected producers and executives, who spent more than 30 years with the corporation, has died aged 53.

The body of the journalist was plucked out of the sea by an RAF helicopter and taken to Ipswich Hospital where her Ugandan-born husband, Tom Boto, works as a senior gynecologist.

Police sources say there were signs of life when she arrived at the hospital but soon after she died. They are treating her death as suicide.

Before she walked into the sea, witnesses told police officers that they had seen the mother-of-three sitting on the beach at Old Felixstowe with her head in her hands.

Those at the BBC who knew her best say she was suffering from severe depression after being persuaded to take early retirement, and after being unable to fly to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, on June 27 when the BBC celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Swahili Service which she had done so much to strengthen and widen into East Africa's most popular radio station.

"Kari was a very popular leader, who was devoted to the BBC World Service and the programme makers in it," the BBC said in a statement. "Her kindness was legendary."

Blackburn was born in Somerset in 1954, daughter of the legendary Trinity College, Dublin educationalist, Robert Blackburn, who was a major force behind the United World College movement.

After graduating from Churchill College, Cambridge with a first-class degree in social and political science, Blackburn went to work as a primary school teacher in Tanzania, returning to the UK in 1977 when she joined the BBC as a graduate trainee.

While there, she helped send a young African with a hole in his heart to have an operation in London. When she met her husband, she discovered that boy was his cousin.

Her rise within the BBC was meteoric. She was made head of the BBC's Africa Service and she later helped to popularise the corporation's Arabic Service. At the time of her death she was director of International Operations for the BBC's World Service Trust.

More than 150 BBC staffers and ex-staffers attended her funeral at Ipswich last Friday and a celebration of her life service will be held at St Brides, the journalists' church in London, later this summer.

She is survived by her husband and their three children, Kassalina, Jonan and Tony.