Record of Investigation into death (Without Inquest)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Simon Cooper, Coroner, having investigated the suspected death of Thomas Elvet Jones

Find that:

(a)    The identity of the deceased is Thomas Elvet Jones;

(b)   Dr Jones died in the circumstances described in this finding;

(c)    Dr Jonesdied on or about 5 January 1975 at Hobart, Tasmania;

(d)   Dr Jones died as a result of injuries sustained in the collapse of the Tasman Bridge;

(e)    Dr Jones was born in Wales in the United Kingdom on 27 September 1928 and was aged 46 years at the time of his death.  He was a married man whose occupation at the date of death was a medical practitioner; and

(f)    Boleslaw Pelc, Captain of the Lake Illawarra, contributed to the cause of Dr Jones' death.

Background:

Dr Thomas Elvet Jones wasborn inWales in the United Kingdom. He was a general practitioner who had moved to Tasmania in 1965 with his wife and 3 children to practice medicine.

The family lived at Victoria Esplanade, Bellerive and Dr Jones practiced at a clinic in Bellerive.

In late 1974, Dr Jones' wife suffered a stroke and was admitted to the Royal Hobart Hospital. She was an inpatient at that Hospital on 5 January 1975.

Circumstances of the Death:

At 9:27 pm on Sunday 5 January 1975 a bulk carrier, the 'Lake Illawarra', collided with the Tasman Bridge as it attempted to pass through an eastern span of the bridge rather than the central navigation span.

The ship was heading to the Electrolytic Zinc Company at Risdon, roughly 3 km upstream from the bridge.

The impact of the ship colliding with the bridge caused 3 unsupported spans and 127 metres of roadway to collapse, crashing onto the ship and into the Derwent River below. The ship quickly sank in approximately 35 metres of water.

Four motor vehicles drove into the gap and fell into the river. In total 12 people were killed in the disaster – 7 crew members of the ship and 5 motorists.

A subsequent Court of Marine Inquiry found that the cause of the collision was error on the part of Captain Pelc. Various recommendations were made and adopted to endeavour to prevent a repetition of the tragedy.

One of those motorists was, I am satisfied, Dr Thomas Elvet Jones. Dr Jones' body was the only body of the motorists not subsequently recovered during the disaster response.

I am satisfied Dr Jones died in the circumstances set out because the evidence available to me establishes he had visited his wife in the Royal Hobart Hospital during the evening of 5 January 1975. He left the Hospital just before the Lake Illawarra crashed into the Bridge. He was intending to travel home to Bellerive, which meant he was certain to have driven over the Tasman Bridge (the alternative route, via the Bridgewater Bridge would have meant a deviation of in the order of 70 kilometres or an additional hour or so travel).

The evidence supports the conclusion that, sadly, Dr Jones must have been on the Tasman Bridge when the Lake Illawarra struck it and must have driven off the gap caused by the roadway falling to the river below.

I am also satisfied Dr Jones is dead because he has not been seen or heard of since immediately before the Lake Illawarra hit the Tasman Bridge. Finally, checks undertaken by Tasmania Police in 2014 with the Electoral Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Land Titles Office, 10 of the most commonly used financial institutions, all State and Territory Police information holdings, missing persons and unidentified body records, driver and vehicle licencing, Centrelink and Medicare have revealed no trace of Dr Jones.

Comments and Recommendations:

Given the effluxion of time, I am satisfied it is unnecessary to make any recommendations or comments pursuant to section 28 of the Coroners Act 1995.

In bringing to conclusion this long outstanding investigation I offer my sincere condolences to Dr Jones' family.

DATED:  30 April 2015 at Hobart in the state of Tasmania

Simon Cooper
CORONER