Record of Investigation into Death (without inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of Andrew Brian Lane
(a) The identity of the deceased is Andrew Brian Lane ("Mr Lane");
(b) Mr Lane died in the circumstances described in this finding;
(c) Mr Lane died on 15 August 2014 at Tooms Lake, Oatlands;
(d) Mr Lane died as a result of drowning;
(e) Mr Lane was born in Hobart on 22 February 1985 and was aged 29 years on the date of his death;
(f) Mr Lane was single and his occupation at the date of death was driver; and
(g) No other person contributed to Mr Lane's death.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
Mr Lane came from a family involved in commercial fishing and therefore had engaged in fishing in various forms from a young age. Mr Lane could swim to a degree; however he had no interest in developing further skills and learned enough to keep him afloat and to engage in basic swimming.
In his teenage years Mr Lane developed an interest in motor vehicles, in particular speedway cars. He eventually had his own speedway car and was successful in that pursuit. Eventually he won the championship thereupon decided that he had reached the pinnacle, there was nowhere to go, and therefore concluded his driving career on a high.
He continued his love of fishing and also became interested in four-wheel vehicle driving, combining both pursuits. He joined the Derwent Valley Four-Wheel Drive Club and attended "mud runs" in company with likeminded people. In February 2014 he purchased a 10 foot aluminium dinghy with a 3.9hp outboard. This was purchased new and it was the limit of what he could afford at that time. He was aware that a boat of that size and an engine of that capacity did not require registration and he was confident that it would suffice to do the type of fishing he intended. When first shown the dinghy, Mr Brian Lane, Mr Lane's father, held reservations about the size of the boat and did discuss with his son the need to take care in operating a boat of that size. Mr Lane equipped the boat with all necessary safety equipment including an EPIRB. He had PFDs available both for himself and any other person in the vessel to wear and he is reported as being extremely safety minded and stringent upon the wearing of PFDs whilst in the boat.
On Wednesday, 13 August 2014, Mr Lane travelled to Tooms Lake in his vehicle, a white Toyota Hilux four-wheel drive utility (ES0962) towing the boat trailer with his dinghy. The trip had two purposes; one being to meet with other members of the four-wheel drive club for some activities and also to go fishing. Mr Lane was friendly with a 15-year-old youth, Dylan Keleher, who also enjoyed fishing and they had arranged to fish together whilst in the area. They went out in the boat on Thursday, 14 August 2014, and planned to go out early on Friday, 15 August 2014. Mr Lane and Dylan Keleher went out shortly after 7:30am on 15 August 2014; the plan was to do some fishing and then return back to the camp area for breakfast. The conditions on the lake at this time were described as calm and they proceeded to an area known as "Axe Handle" which is not far from Wilsons Bay which is on the opposing side of the bay from the boat ramp. The pair fished for a period until the wind started blowing from a north-westerly direction causing whitecaps and the decision was made by Mr Lane to head back to the safety of the boat launch area. He turned the boat into the wind and proceeded into the approaching waves. With the strength of the wind and waves crashing over the bow of the dinghy, water pooled in the dinghy. Dylan Keleher recalls bailing water but could not keep pace with water entering the boat from waves crashing over it. The water level therefore continued to rise and then a wave came over the side of the boat causing it to capsize. I infer that the weight of the water in the boat, perhaps combined with the movement of the occupants, would create a risk of too much weight transferring to one side of the boat so as to create an unstable situation. Messrs Lane and Keleher both fell into the water.
Mr Keleher reports that he panicked and struggled with inflating his life jacket; however Mr Lane calmly took charge of the situation, reassuring Mr Keleher and after he inflated his own jacket he assisted Mr Keleher to inflate his own. Mr Keleher reports that Mr Lane supported him whilst they were in the water giving him advice and maintaining calm control. Dylan believes that this event occurred at approximately 9:30am and that they were in the water for approximately 2 hours. The wind remained strong and they found it impossible to stay with the dinghy so a decision was made to swim for the shore. Previous attempts had been made by Mr Lane to locate the EPIRB which was stored in the forward compartment under the bow seat of the dinghy however he was unable to access it owing to the movement of the boat, the wind and the fact he was wearing a buoyancy vest.
After they commenced to swim to the shore, they were swimming with the wind towards the Wilsons Bay shoreline. After a period of time Mr Keleher lost sight of Mr Lane, when last seen waves were breaking over his head.
Upon reaching the shore Mr Keleher took off his lifejacket, he was bitterly cold and his legs and arms were unresponsive but nevertheless, enduring pain associated with activity, he travelled an estimated 6 to 7 kilometres through bushland back to the campsite to raise the alarm. Emergency services, including the police, were notified and a group of persons, including Simon Pears, who used his boat, travelled to the far side of the lake, located the boat and Mr Lane in the water. Mr Lane was pulled on board this boat but it was realised at this time that he was deceased. Police attended the scene and an investigation took place.
This investigation concluded that:
- Mr Lane was an experienced and safety conscious operator of small vessels.
- The boat being used was in excellent condition and both Mr Lane and Mr Keleher were wearing PFDs that complied with the appropriate safety standards.
- When they set out that morning the weather conditions were calm; however whilst on the lake the weather conditions deteriorated over a short period of time.
- The size of the boat was insufficient to safely contend with the extent of rough water and waves that developed prior to their ability to return safely.
- In all the circumstances this was clearly a tragic accident where a change in weather conditions created a dangerous situation.
The water temperature recorded by attending police was 5 degrees Celsius. This would have contributed to the tragic outcome. It is accepted that cold water carries heat away from the body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature and as a result, after immersion in cold water, the body core immediately begins to lose heat to the outside environment. As the body core temperature drops, cognitive functioning and judgment become affected. In a very short period of time manual dexterity is affected and functional disability develops due to the cooling of the muscles of the limbs. After an extended period of time of immersion in such cold water, swimming any appreciable distance is not possible. Even experienced swimmers have difficulty maintaining a swimming effort due to muscle rigidity and loss of co-ordination. Unfortunately the act of swimming, due to the movement, will also cool a person more rapidly. The dangers associated with cold water immersion are highlighted by the fact that the prospect of drowning increases nearly five times where water temperatures are below 15 degrees Celsius.
Based upon the investigation findings it is appropriate that Mr Lane be posthumously commended for his ability to remain calm and assist Mr Keleher during this ordeal. Additionally Mr Keleher is to be commended for his action in overcoming his own physical condition to seek assistance after he had reached the safety of the shoreline.
Comments and Recommendations:
I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into this death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of Mr Lane, the date, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how his death occurred and the particulars needed to register his death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any significant information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
Although there is no certainty as to whether or not this tragic outcome could have been avoided if certain specific action had been taken, I make the following recommendations and comments, hopefully in order to heighten awareness to all boat users as to the dangers highlighted by this tragedy. The following matters are of relevance to all boat users:
- Know the limitations of your boat. In this case it was a small boat unsuited to any adverse water conditions.
- Ensure that someone knows where you are going and your planned return time. Had earlier action been able to have been taken in this case the tragic outcome might have been avoided.
- Check the weather forecast before launching a boat. Although conditions on this occasion may have been suitable when launching the boat, an operator must check what the conditions are likely to be for the duration of the expected trip.
- Safety equipment such as EPRIBs and flares must be carried in such a way as to be easily accessible upon the happening of a sudden event. EPIRBs should be mounted near the location of the boat operator so as to be accessible, even upon a boat overturning.
- All boat operators and occupants must be aware of the dangers associated with cold water immersion and take the appropriate steps to increase the chance of survival in those circumstances, in particular:
- Be aware of the cold shock response your body will involuntarily take upon initial immersion. Guard against being underwater in the initial stages when your body will involuntarily gasp in response to the cold water immersion, and if you are submerged this could result in water inhalation and drowning at the initial stage.
- In the initial stages be aware that there will be an increase in the rate of breathing and heart rate, with a need to stabilise these reactions
- Stay with the boat and do all that you are able to remove as much of your body from the water as is possible by climbing on to the boat.
I commend to all water craft operators the Marine and Safety Tasmania website (www.mast.tas.gov.au) that contains extensive information upon all aspects relating to the safe use of water craft.
I wish to convey my sincere condolences to Mr Lane's family.
Dated: 25 March 2015 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.