Record of Investigation into Death
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Regulations 1996
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
Find That :
(a) The identity of the deceased is Robbie Lovell (“Mr Lovell”). Mr Lovell was born in Australia on 31 December 1963, he was aged 45 and was unemployed.
(b) Mr Lovell was single, resided at Unit 5, 2 Greenhill Estate, Kingston, suffered mild intellectual disability from birth and at the time of his death was a carer for his mother.
(c) Mr Lovell died on 26 December 2009 as a result of drowning following a boating mishap. At post mortem he was found to have also suffered severe ischemic heart disease which may contributed to his death.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death :
On Saturday 26 December 2009 Mr Lovell visited a friend Michael Richards at his address, 25 Drysdale Avenue in Kingston. Mr Richards and Mr Lovell had on many previous occasions gone fishing together both from boats and also from the shore. On this day Mr Richards was fitting a fish finder and radio to a boat that belonged to his friend Mr Justin Bennett. Mr Richards had authority to use this both while it was in his possession. The boat was a 5 metre pleasure craft cuddy cab, Reg’d No. 34613, constructed of fibreglass. After Mr Richards had completed the work on the boat it was decided that they would launch the boat and do some fishing. Mr Lovell obtained permission from his mother to go on the trip. The boat was launched at the Tinderbox boat ramp, Mr Richards was wearing a jacket which could be inflated if required to act as a life jacket and Mr Lovell was wearing a standard positive buoyancy style life jacket. The pair spent a period of time fishing in the Bull Bay area at Bruny Island. After a period Mr Richards noticed that there was some water on the floor of the boat. He used a manual bilge pump to remove some of the water. At some stage the engine stalled and Mr Richards noticed that the battery was under water. He continued to use the bilge pump and instructed Mr Lovell to start bailing water with a bucket. The boat was low in the water at the stern and although the weather was fine, small waves were beginning to break over the transom. Suddenly the boat went vertical in the water with the rear of the boat under water and the forward section of the boat (estimated at approximately one metre) was still out of the water. When Mr Richards surfaced beside the boat he noticed that Mr Lovell was inside the cuddy cabin area up against the windscreen of the boat. Mr Lovell was in an air pocket in the cabin hard against the windscreen calling for help. Mr Richards swam under water, grabbing hold of Mr Lovell’s legs and tried to pull him out of the cabin area. Mr Lovell was holding on to the handle in the cabin and would not let go. Mr Richards made several attempts to extricate Mr Lovell but was unable to do so either by Mr Lovell’s reluctance to let go of a grab handle or alternatively the positive buoyancy of the life jacket he was wearing. Mr Richards attempted to persuade Mr Lovell to take off his life jacket so that he could pull him from the boat but Mr Lovell refused to do so. After several attempts Mr Richards became exhausted and was required to inflate his own life jacket. Mr Richards then endeavoured to attract the attention of other boats in the area by using the whistle on his life jacket and also he attempted unsuccessfully to fire a flare. However another boat did come to their assistance and noting the circumstances that boat, skippered by Mr Matthew Patmore, went to another nearby boat where a group of divers were working. Mr Patmore was advised that Mr Lovell had been under water for approximately 20 minutes and that Mr Richards had made several unsuccessful attempts to get him out. He therefore concluded that the best option was to get the assistance of the nearby divers. That vessel, skippered by Mr Steven Spotswood, came to the aid of Mr Richards and also made a distress call requesting Marine Police to attend and assist. Mr Steven Spotswood and Mr James Berry then dived on to the partially submerged vessel and extracted Mr Lovell. Mr Lovell was placed on their vessel and the occupants commenced CPR during the journey to the Drew Point boat ramp. When they arrived other bystanders had become involved in continuing CPR upon Mr Lovell. This continued until the arrival of ambulance personnel who took over the CPR endeavours which continued during the transport of Mr Lovell to the Royal Hobart Hospital. Sadly these endeavours were unsuccessful.
Comments and Recommendations :
Apparently the vessel took on water over a low transom. It is also possible that buoyancy tank voids under the floor contained water as stagnant water was removed from these areas after the vessel was recovered. Given the layout of the vessel and the flooring the vessel would have contained a significant amount of water before it became noticeable above floor level. At that stage the water pump and bailing would have had difficulty in resolving the problem. The weight of water taken in lowered the stern even further which with increasing seas meant more water was entering the vessel. The design of the vessel was such that the occupants in normal operation would occupy the rear 30% of the vessel thus placing more weight at the stern and compromising the low transom. The lack of positive buoyancy fitted to the vessel meant it would sink quickly, stern first. This vessel was constructed before the introduction of the Australian Builders Plate in July 2007 which prescribed the requirement for positive buoyancy to be fitted to vessels. I am aware of an extensive publicity campaign conducted by MAST to have boat owners check their vessel’s buoyancy and retrofit positive buoyancy where necessary. I strongly encourage all boat owners to heed this message.
Although CPR was conducted upon Mr Lovell subsequent to his recovery from the water the adults involved were reliant upon advice from young persons on the vessel who had received instruction at an “Austswim” program. It is timely to highly recommend that persons involved in any form of water based recreational activity ensure that they have at the very least the knowledge and ability to conduct basic CPR.
I wish to conclude by conveying my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Lovell
DATED : 29 August 2011 at Hobart in the state of Tasmania
Stephen Raymond Carey