Former RNLI crewman might have lived if he swam earlier

A former lifeboat crew member who drowned off the Waterford coast in January might have survived if he had tried swimming earlier to shore or worn a lifejacket fitted with a collar.

A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board into the death of John Flynn, 43, from Dunmore East, also stressed the importance of having someone ashore to contact the emergency services soon after a deadline has passed.

Mr Flynn, a former RNLI volunteer who had training in sea survival, drowned on his return from an early morning fishing trip with his friend, James Tate, after their 5m fibreglass punt was capsized by waves off Brownstown Head in Tramore Bay on Jan 10.

The MCIB said the two men had struggled in the water for approximately 75 minutes before they decided to try and swim 50m to the shore.

Marine investigators said the men were exhausted by that stage. Mr Tate, who had stayed in contact with the vessel’s upturned hull, managed to reach the shore and raised the alarm more than one hour after his expected return time which he had notified to a person on land.

The MCIB said it was hard not to think that both men’s chances of survival would have been greatly enhanced if they had tried to swim to shore immediately, given its relative proximity, notwithstanding the standard recommendation to remain with a capsized vessel until help arrives.

A handheld VHF radio, a GPS system, and a mobile phone were all lost when the vessel was upturned, while neither man was equipped with flares, which could have been used to raise the alarm at a much earlier stage.

The report noted that the boat’s buoyancy had been reduced by being adapted to provide storage for a fuel tank.

Although both men were wearing personal flotation devices, neither was equipped with a collar to keep them on their back and their heads above water. Use of such equipment could have aided Mr Flynn’s possible survival, the report concluded.

In another report, the MCIB found a Co Galway fisherman who drowned while checking lobster pots last year was not wearing a lifejacket and had consumed alcohol.

Gerard Folan, 43, from Carna, Co Galway, died after falling into the sea from his curragh, Carraig Ainne, on Apr 23, 2012. Mr Folan’s boat was found close to the shore of the Aran Islands, while his body was recovered near MacDara’s Island.

The MCIB said Mr Folan had failed to comply with regulations and legislation governing the use of lifejackets and the consumption of alcohol when operating a vessel.

It also recommended that consideration should be given to amending regulations to require the owners of small vessels to fit a “kill cord” which would stop an engine if its operator has fallen overboard.

The report said Mr Folan, who was a good swimmer, could have remained in contact with his boat if one had been fitted.


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