Record of Investigation into Death (without inquest)
I, Simon Cooper, Coroner, having investigated the suspected death of William Edward McCallum
a) The identity of the deceased is William Edward McCallum;
b) Mr McCallum died in the circumstances described in this finding;
c) Mr McCallum died on or about 25 August 2013 in the waters off Dover in Tasmania;
d) Mr McCallum died most likely as the result of drowning and/or hypothermia but I am unable to say which;
e) Mr McCallum was born in Port Augusta, South Australia on 5 November 1985, was aged 27 years at the time of his death; and was living in a de facto relationship, his occupation was self-employed photographer and cinematographer at the date of his death; and
f) No person contributed to the cause of his death
William Edward McCallum was born in Port Augusta, South Australia on 5 November 1985. He was the eldest of three children born to Stephen Robert McCallum and Heather Joy Watkinson. His parents divorced when he was young and he was brought up, in the main, by his mother who subsequently remarried and had another four children.
Mr McCallum attended university and worked seasonally on a farm at Whyalla, South Australia as well as on oyster leases at Smoky Bay, South Australia. He had a short stint as a postman which finished at the beginning of 2013.
Mr McCallum was a keen photographer and cinematographer and had started doing wedding photography and tourism work.
He was in a committed de facto relationship with Cordelia Teresa Hamm Dravitkzi at the time of his disappearance.
He travelled to Tasmania on 14 August 2013 for the purpose of undertaking tourism photography and cinematography. He intended to return to South Australia on 28 August 2013. He was staying with his uncle, Steven Dounton, and his uncle's partner, Rachel Trueman, at "Driftwood Cottages", Bayview Road, Dover on the shore of Port Esperance. He had previously stayed with them there in July 2012.
Circumstances Surround the Death:
On Sunday 25 August 2013, Mr McCallum reportedly did some computer work and put together a video. He then went to Hastings Caves to take some footage of the forest near the entrance to the cave. He returned to "Driftwood Cottages" about 4.00pm.
On his return he told Ms Trueman that he was going to go out on in a kayak and take his camera with him. They had a short discussion about which kayak he would take and he decided to take what Ms Trueman described as the "big sea kayak".
Mr McCallum did not tell Ms Trueman where he was going in the kayak. He had however asked her where was good to go and she advised that the islands (Faith, Hope and Charity Islands on Port Esperance) or up the Esperance River were worth visiting.
The "big sea kayak" was stored under a cottage a short distance away on Chapman Avenue, Dover. Ms Trueman told Mr McCallum to take his uncle's kayak as it was on a trolley. She advised him that the lifejackets were in a big work area under the house. Ms Trueman didn't see Mr McCallum take the kayak to the boat ramp or leave the boat ramp. Although Mr McCallum had not used that particular kayak during this visit the evidence suggests that he had used it during his visit in July 2012.
At the time he left, Ms Trueman described conditions as calm and very little breeze. She described Mr McCallum as wearing a red Gore-Tex rain jacket although she was uncertain what he was wearing underneath, probably khaki coloured trousers. It is unclear on the evidence obtained as a result of the investigation whether Mr McCallum was wearing an approved PFD.
About 5.30pm Ms Trueman thought Mr McCallum should be returning and started to keep a look out for him. It was on dusk and she thought she saw something coming from the direction of the Esperance River. Twenty minutes later it occurred to her that he still hadn't returned and she walked to the boat ramp to look out for him. Ms Trueman then drove south along the bay to Pottery Road, Dover checking the bay and shoreline, and drove out to the Esperance River but couldn't see any sign of Mr McCallum.
Ms Trueman then rang her partner who was in South Australia and a couple of friends from the local boat club. At that time she was becoming more concerned but thought it likely he had come ashore somewhere and was walking home. Ms Trueman then decided to ring police.
The Search for Mr McCallum:
Police received Ms Trueman's call at 6.30pm. At that time it was not known where in the bay Mr McCallum had gone to and it was also thought that he may have kayaked up the Esperance River.
The local police officer, Constable Miller, attended and spoke to Ms Trueman and then commenced checking the Esperance River as far as was possible from a vehicle and also checked with inhabitants of some residences near the river. Tasmanian Police Search and Rescue were notified of the concerns for Mr McCallum at 7.10pm. The appropriate supervisors were also notified and briefed.
A search was commenced of Port Esperance Bay and the adjacent D'Entrecasteaux Channel using a police vessel and five local vessels, along with the search and rescue helicopter fitted with search light and infra-red equipment.
The kayak used by Mr McCallum was located at a position of 43.19.625S, 147.03.204E at 9.10pm by a member of the public, Luke Cordwell, who was aboard the vessel "Sheriff". A bag containing camera lenses was located attached to the kayak. There was no visible damage to the kayak. The storage cover behind the seat was off and all other compartments secure. In a separate secured storage compartment behind the seat there was an inflatable bag, a heaving line, and two spare oars. A separate secured storage area contained a bilge pump.
At 10.40pm a paddle was located at position 43.20.594S, 147.03.559E and at 10.50pm a sea boot and a second paddle at position 43 20 367S, 147 03 468E. The paddles and sea boot were located by the crew of the vessel "Barbara".
At the time of the search, the wind was variable blowing north westerly at about 25kmh, the water conditions were calm and overall the conditions were fine. The water was described as extremely cold (it being accurately measured at 10°C three days later).
Other enquiries were conducted on shore. It was ascertained that Mr McCallum had been seen by Darren Clarke, the skipper of a local fishing boat. Mr Clarke was aboard his boat which was berthed at the Dover jetty waiting to unload fish. He saw a person walking around Charity Island dressed in brightly coloured vest or life jacket. Mr Clark saw a kayak on the island. Mr Clarke paid no particular attention (and he had no reason to do so) and went below into the vessel whilst he was waiting. He did not see the person on the island again. I conclude it is highly likely that the person Mr Clarke described seeing was Mr McCallum.
The search efforts continued well into the night. Initially the search area covered the whole of Port Esperance Bay. Due to Mr McCallum having been seen on Charity Island and the location of the recovered kayak, paddles, and boot the search was concentrated on the area between Charity Island and Blubber Head out into the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
Searches were conducted of the coastline of Port Esperance Bay by vessel and wherever possible from the shoreline by local police. A foot search was conducted of the shoreline and complete interior of Faith and Charity Islands. A search was conducted of the Hope Island shoreline from a police vessel and fish farm vessel "Sheriff" skippered by Luke Cordwell (who had found the kayak). Police went ashore on Hope Island and searched a derelict building and the area around the building and between the building and shoreline. A Datum buoy was deployed from the police search and rescue helicopter at 11.00pm. The search concluded at 12.30am on 26 August 2013 and resumed at 9.00am the same day.
Personnel involved included SES, marine police, local police, and civilian resources, including two police search and rescue helicopters. Six SES personnel searched the coastline from Kent Beach to Little Roaring Bay Beach. Further searches were also conducted on Hope, Faith and Charity Islands along the shoreline, as well as the interior of the islands.
Three police marine vessels and five civilian vessels searched Port Esperance Bay and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel from Port Esperance to Bruny Island.
The police rescue helicopter searched the Port Esperance area and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel south east of Esperance to Great Taylors Bay, South Bruny. A second helicopter was deployed to assist with the air search. Nothing further was located.
On Tuesday 27 August 2013 a land, sea and air search commenced again at 9.00am. The search area was expanded such that the shoreline from Dover along the shoreline of Esperance Bay to Southport was searched.
The area of shoreline from Scott's Point south to Lady Bay is rugged with steep cliffs, thick scrub and no vehicular access, and was not searched from land. The shoreline from Sisters Bay to the eastern entrance to Southport Bay is likewise rugged with steep cliffs, thick scrub and no vehicular access, and was not searched from land.
SES personnel also searched the shoreline north of Dover to Franklin and the east side of the Huon River from Garden Island Creek to Gordon. The majority of those shorelines are accessible from land.
A sea search was conducted by two police vessels of the shoreline from the northern tip of Partridge Island south to Cape Bruny, west across to the Stack of Bricks at the northern entrance to Southport Bay and then along the shoreline north to Port Esperance. A sea search was also conducted of Port Esperance Bay and along the shoreline of the bay. A shoreline search was conducted from the northern tip of Partridge Island into Great Taylors Bay and the shoreline north to Little Taylors Bay.
An air search utilising the police helicopter was conducted of the shoreline on the western side of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Port Esperance Bay and the shoreline from Cape Bruny to the Quarries including Partridge Island.
The police search and rescue dive team searched around Charity Island as the missing person had last been seen on Charity Island. The search concluded at 3.00pm, again without success.
On Wednesday 28 August 2013 the search was continued by two police vessels of the shoreline of Port Esperance Bay and Hope, Faith and Charity Islands as well as the shoreline north of Port Esperance Bay to Surveyors Bay and south of Port Esperance Bay to Southport.
In the afternoon of 28 August 2013 a search was conducted from Esperance Point across to Connelly's Beach on Bruny Island. The search consisted of a line search involving two police vessels and three fish farm vessels and two private vessels. Upon reaching the Bruny Island coast the search vessels moved south and searched the adjacent section of water from Bruny Island to Blubber Head, Port Esperance.
The search was scaled down on 29 August 2013 but continued on that day as well as on 30, 31 August and 1 September 2013. Again, the search focused on the shorelines of Hope, Faith and Charity Islands, Port Esperance Bay, and the coastline north to Surveyors Bay and coastline south to Southport. Unfortunately, aside from the kayak, boot and paddles located on the evening of 25 August 2013 nothing else was located, and in particular, no trace of Mr McCallum's body was found.
A review of the search leads me to conclude that it was commenced in a timely manner, carried out in an appropriate fashion, and only ceased when there was absolutely no possibility of discovering Mr McCallum alive.
The water temperature on 28 August 2013 was recorded as being 10o C. It is quite clear that once immersed in the water the time Mr McCallum could survive was extremely limited – on any view of it he would have been incapacitated completely within three hours of being immersed. Had he been in an insulated dry suit the absolute longest time, according to material gathered as part of the coronial investigation, Mr McCallum could have survived before his body went into cardiac arrest was nine hours. These periods are a guide only. The National Land Search Operations Manual, the guide utilised for the conduct of search and rescue activities and operations, indicates that by way of example the variation of survival time between two persons in light clothing immersed in cold water is that one could remain capacitated for 1.3 hours after immersion in water of a similar temperature to that recorded on 28 August, while a second could suffer cardiac arrest and die in the same period of time.
In short, once immersed in the water, and I find on the balance of probabilities that Mr McCallum must have, for whatever reason, become immersed in the waters of Port Esperance, it is impossible that he could have survived the night. In fact it is most likely that he would have been incapacitated due to hypothermia and either drowned or have suffered cardiac arrest within a relatively short period after becoming so immersed. Although no trace of his body has ever been found I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that William Edward McCallum is dead due to becoming so immersed.
It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty how Mr McCallum came to be immersed in the water. He may have fallen whilst getting back into the kayak after having been on Charity Island (where he was seen by Mr Clarke). He may have been tipped out of the kayak perhaps as a result of interaction with a seal, which are very common in the area. It may be that as a result of inexperience generally speaking with the kayak he may have simply fallen from it into the water.
There is no evidence that allows me to conclude whether or not he was wearing a PFD at the time he used the kayak or entered the water or both. Although of course the wearing of a PFD is an essential safety requirement it would in my assessment of the circumstances have made no difference to whether Mr McCallum could have survived his immersion in the water.
In summary his death was most likely due to cold water immersion which either led to his dying from hypothermia or becoming so incapacitated as a result of hypothermia that he drowned.
Comments and Recommendations:
The circumstances of Mr McCallum's death are not such as to require me to make any comments or recommendations pursuant to section 28 of the Coroners Act 1995.
I wish to convey my sincere condolences to Mr McCallum's family.