Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)

Corners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

 I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, have  investigated the death of Donald Laird Campbell

Find That:

(a) Donald Laird Campbell died on or about the 23 July 2011 in waters off Bridport known as Anderson Bay.

(b) Donald Laird Campbell was born at Scottsdale in Tasmania on the 30 January 1940 and was aged 71 years at the time of his death.

(c) Mr Campbell was a single man who was retired at the time of his death.

(d) I find that Mr Campbell  died after taking to waters from Bridport on 23 July 2011.  He has not been seen since. 

Circumstances Surrounding the Death:

Mr Campbell separated from his wife, Donna Barbara Campbell, in 1994 and then moved to West Australia where he worked in the mining industry for 13 years before returning to settle at Bridport in Tasmania in 2007.  He was well known in the Bridport community and displayed enthusiasm for fishing and boating.  It was reported that Mr Campbell would go fishing a few times each week either with friends, but often he would go alone.  All those who went fishing with him report that he was a capable skipper and was safety conscious.

On Saturday 23 July 2011 at around midday Mr Stanley Howard, a friend of Mr Campbell, met him at the carpark of the IGA Supermarket on Main Street, Bridport.  They spoke for a short period of time during which Mr Campbell advised that he intended going fishing that day.  At this meeting Mr Howard confirmed with Mr Campbell the pre-arranged lunch date that they had the following day (Sunday 24 July at 12.00pm).

At approximately 2.00pm on 23 July, 2011 Mr David Simmons and Mr Douglas Geale (who both knew Mr Campbell) were present at the Bridport boat ramp turning circle when they observed Mr Campbell alone in his boat at the floating pontoon near the boat ramp.  They observed that Mr Campbell was alone in his boat and saw him take the vessel out the mouth of the river in a north westerly direction. 

At approximately 6.00pm 1st Class Constable Storay who was on duty in the Bridport area observed Mr Campbell’s vehicle and boat trailer parked at the carpark near the boat ramp.  Constable Storay knew that this vehicle and trailer belonged to Mr Campbell and knew that he was a keen fisherman.  During his duties that day 1st Class Constable Storay noted that the vehicle and trailer were still at the boat ramp at 10.00pm and also at 2.45am on Sunday 24 July.  Shortly after 10.00pm 1st Class Constable Storay attended Mr Campbell’s address as he was concerned as to whether or not Mr Campbell was fishing at night.  He found that there was no-one home at the address and attempts to call Mr Campbell’s mobile phone proved negative with it ringing out and transferring to the message bank.

On Sunday 24 July 2011 at 12.00pm Mr Campbell did not arrive at Mr Howard’s address for lunch as had been arranged previously.  Attempts were made to contact him via his mobile phone but once again the phone transferred to the message bank.  A further attempt to contact Mr Campbell via his mobile phone was made by Mr Howard after lunch, but once again the phone transferred to the message bank without answer. 

At approximately 2.45pm on 24 July 2011 Mr Craig Riggall was operating his boat in Anderson Bay fishing with a friend, Andrew Farrell, and Mr Farrell’s two children.  At this time they headed towards the shore halfway between the Lost Farm golf course and Blackman’s Lagoon in order to allow the children to fish along the shore area.  They observed a boat on the beach on a location approximately 4.75 nautical miles from Bridport.  The boat was a red and white Stebercraft registered number 41867 which was later determined to be the vessel owned and operated by Mr Campbell.  Mr Riggall and Mr Farrell got out of their boat and inspected the Stebercraft in an endeavour to locate the owner or operator.  It was observed that the throttle was pushed on and the keys were in the ignition which was in the on position.  Mr Farrell located registration papers for the boat and telephoned his partner who searched the telephone directory in an endeavour to obtain a contact telephone number for the registered owner.  This endeavour was unsuccessful.  A mobile phone was found in an esky located in the vessel and Mr Riggall called the last caller on the mobile phone, such call going to Mr Howard.  Mr Riggall explained to Mr Howard what they had located and Mr Howard advised as to the identity of the boat’s owner and that he would check Mr Campbell’s address to see if he could be contacted.  After determining that no-one was at Mr Campbell’s address and that his car and trailer were still present at the Bridport boat ramp police were notified.

Upon receiving this notification a detailed aerial, land and marine search was commenced for Mr Campbell.  A detailed land search was conducted involving SES volunteers together with volunteers from the Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue.  An aerial marine search was co-ordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and involved 5 vessels and 4 aircraft.  These resources conducted a search over an area of approximately 142 square nautical miles. Two fixed wing and two rotoring aircraft were utilised for the search conducting parallel searches of the area as directed by AMSA.  A detailed search continued until 31 July 2011 at which time the search for a living person was concluded, although local police continued some land search endeavours during the week following that date. 

Despite these intensive search endeavours, Mr Campbell was not located and no sign of him or his body has been found since that date.

Between 6 August 2011 and 5 December 2011 extensive checks were conducted involving Mr Campbell’s bank, the ANZ Bank, Medicare, Department of Immigration, all interstate police services, all airlines in and out of Tasmania and the Spirit of Tasmania.  All these checks proved negative for contact or details of Mr Campbell. 

On 2 August 2011 and 5 August 2011 a detailed inspection was carried out of Mr Campbell’s vessel by Mr C Wyatt, an experienced outboard mechanic and Mr Glynn Allway, the Manager of Vessel Standards and Survey, Marine & Safety Tasmania.  Both the vessel and the motor were found to be in good order and fully serviceable.  The vessel’s 12 volt battery had been affected by sea water and was not operative.  However, with a fully charged battery connected, the motor became operational, but it was noted that as cooling water circulated in the motor, a significant amount of sand was discharged.  The engine cut out switch at the helm shut the motor down when disengaged.  The motor also shut down with the start key normally.  The boat was found to be sea worthy and the testing concluded that the boat’s propulsion and operating systems functioned when a serviceable battery was connected. 

From the inspection and test taken it was concluded that the vessel was sea worthy and fully operational prior to going ashore on the beach.

As at 23 July 2011 Mr Campbell’s General Practitioner reports that he was essentially a fit and well man, although he suffered hypertension and Type II Diabetes, both conditions were being treated with medication and were controlled.

Comments and Recommendations:

I have decided not to hold an inquest in this matter.  In my opinion, no further information of significance or relevance to the issues which I am required to determine will be elicited by an inquest.

I am satisfied that based on the evidence before me Mr Cambell has perished at sea.

On the basis of known facts and matters that can be reasonably inferred in relation to this matter I make the following comments and observations:

  • When last seen Mr Campbell was operating his boat and heading for open waters wearing a heavy yellow raincoat.  There is significant doubt as to whether he was wearing a life jacket whilst the boat was underway.  Two life jackets (being the reported normal number carried) were found on the boat after it was found, which indicate he was not wearing one at the time that he apparently fell overboard.  Given that the boat was at that time travelling of its own accord and then beached itself after Mr Campbell fell overboard it is likely it was underway at the time.  His apparent failure to wear a life jacket when his boat was underway could well have contributed to his death and once again this illustrates the need for all boat users to comply with applicable legislation in this regard.
  • The engine cut out switch at the helm of the boat was operational and shut the motor down when disengaged.  I am mindful of the general practice of small boat owners not to use this device as it can be restrictive.  However this incident could well be an example of how its use may have assisted Mr Campbell if he had fallen overboard and his boat continued travelling away from him.  I recommend that persons operating a small boat single handedly ensure that this device is able to be operated in circumstances where they are unable to have control of the boat.
  • The water temperature on the following day was measured at 11.5 degrees Celsius.  Immersion in water at this temperature would very soon lead to the effects of hypothermia and Mr Campbell would have been unable to survive in the water at that temperature for any sustained period of time.
  • The delay in activating a search for Mr Campbell is of concern.  The on-duty police officer had sufficient concern as to Mr Campbell’s well-being that he checked his house at 10.00pm finding that is was in darkness and locked up with no one there.  He was aware at that time that Mr Campbell’s boat and empty trailer were at the boat ramp.  He was also aware at 2.45am the next morning that Mr Campbell had not returned to the boat ramp yet no action was taken as to the possibility of there being a missing person incident and a boating mishap.  I request that the Police Department consider this issue and take such action as may be required to ensure operational police officers act in a consistent manner, perhaps as detailed in Standard Operating Procedures, when faced with a similar circumstance.  I am unable to say whether a search instituted on the night of his disappearance would have led to a different outcome for Mr Campbell, but it would have at least increased the possibility of a more positive outcome.
  • The second aspect relating to the delayed search is the failure of Mr Campbell to leave details as to his intentions when going out on this day, particularly his planned return time.  If he had left this detail with a friend or neighbour or even left a note with his motor vehicle at the boat ramp the likelihood is that a search would have been commenced much sooner and his chances of being found and of survival would have been increased.  I strongly recommend that all boat users ensure such detail is left with someone who will monitor their return or at the very least the detail is left with their vehicle and trailer at a boat ramp if this is applicable.

Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Campbell.

This matter is now concluded

DATED:   6 August 2014 at Hobart in the state of Tasmania.


Stephen Raymond Carey