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Boat Heaven - Boat Heaven

fatal ending!

February 22nd 2009 00:25
Recently, as the skipper of a maxi charter yacht skipper I had the unfortunate experience of losing one of my passengers. I am writing this account to purge my soul and to show people how easily things can go wrong despite the best safety measures being in place.

We had dropped anchor off the Eastern side of Hook Island in the Whistunday group in the Coral Sea off the Queensland coast. My deckhand and I gave a snorkeling brief to our twelve passengers and then with everyone suited up in stinger suits and carrying their masks and snorkels my deckie ferried people to the snorkel site in the RIB. The site was about thirty metres away but it is easier to control the crowd if we use the RIB rather than have everyone swim to the site.

My deckie is highly experienced with over four years of practical time in the area doing exactly what we were doing right now. He now stands up in the RIB and watches the snorkelers. Primarily he changes masks and snorkels for people who can't pick a good set prior to leaving the mother ship. He is also the 1st point of rescue should something go wrong. He had just left the mother ship after being passed a replacement snorkel by me when he noticed something wrong.

At this stage I must set the scene. It is a bright sunny afternoon. The water is warm and vizability is very good. Eleven of the twelve passengers are in the water all wearing simillar black stinger suits face down snorkeling. They all look much the same. All that shows is the quiet breaking of the water with fins and the tip of the snorkel. The coral viewing here is extraordinary and the fish life is abundant. Every passenger is fully engrossed with what is happening under water.

Distaster strikes! My deckie notices one person laying face down in the water with her snorkel tip submerged... He races over in the RIB (10 Metres) pulls the swimmer out of the water and rips off her face mask and snorkel. She is not responding to his shouts to her if she is ok. Laying her down on the floor of the RIB he races for the mother ship (20 metres) and calls to me for the oxygen bottle. I cry out that we don't have oxygen on board and as I jump into the RIB to assist, tell him to tie off and call "000" for assistance.

The young woman is unconcious I can't feel a pulse and she is not breathing. Her nose is dribbling blood and oxyginated water is running from her mouth. I clear her mouth with my fingers, check her tongue is forward and blow air into her lungs. Then I proceed with CPR. I can hear the deckie talking to the rescue response people as I work franticly to revive my passenger. After about fifteen minutes I am told that a boat is coming from another Island and they will transfer my passenger to a rescue helicopter. At this point one of the snorkelers beside me and I ask her if she can ask the other people if any of them is a doctor, nurse or medically trained person. Within a couple of minutes two people have come to relieve me.

One guy is a medical ordlerly in a hospital and one girl is senior first aid trained. We spend another fifteen minutes doing CPR, during this time we look for vital signs of life but can't identify anything! The rescue boat arrives and my passenger is transfered over. I note that
there are two nurses on board and the way the man in a suit was talking to them he had to be a doctor. Relieved of my patient and relieved that she is in good hands, I gather all my passengers together for a debriefing.

I have to be blunt, I don't think think our patient will survive. In fact I am sure she is already deceased. The atmosphere amongst the passengers is sombre. We have to return to port as police and maritime authorities will need to investigate the incident. On the way back, we get a call on the VHF radio that the patient is on board the rescue chopper and they have found her pulse and she has weak blood pressure. Relieved, there is a feeling of celebration on board. In fact they party on till the early hours of the morning.

Then the mood crashes. I get a call from the hospital, [ our operations manager has driven there, ] that at 0500 my passenger passed away.

I spend many months going over the sequence of events that led to the incident and what happend imediately after. I don't know that there was anything I could do to change the series of events. I have talked to occupational health and safety officers, the police and other skippers. The young lady was a reasonable swimmer and had snorkeled before in Thailand and Cairns. She loved snorkeling! The water depth was not above her head height and nobody saw any signs of struggling or panic. I have no access to an autopsy report and have not been asked to give evidence at a coronor's enquiry. Just bad Luck? I hope not.


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