Five men thrown from boat had no lifejackets


None of five men thrown from their boat into the freezing waters of Cork Harbour in January was wearing life-jackets, an inquest at the Coroner's Court in Cobh, Co Cork, has been told. The boat capsized after being swamped by wash.

A fisherman, Mr Jerry Spillane (23), of Mayfield, Cork city, clung to a buoy before losing his grip and being swept downriver. His four companions survived after two swam ashore and two were rescued by a pilot boat.

The men were setting up a mid-river mooring for the 17-foot pleasure craft they had taken out on January 10th. Mr Derek Stanley, of Rochestown, Cork, said: "Jerry was the expert on the day. He was splicing the ropes and was helping us make the mooring."

The job was almost completed when the accident happened. After being thrown into the water, Mr Stanley climbed on top of the upturned boat. He swam to shore when he saw that Mr Spillane had let go of the buoy. "He was calling for help. He was the reason I swam ashore to try and get help."

Mr Ray O'Flynn, of Magazine Road, Cork, a co-owner of the boat, said he noticed a tug moving up-river. They were hit by three big waves which came over the stern of the boat.

"The first one knocked out the engine and went over my knees. We were all talking. There was no panic. We knew we were in trouble and that the boat was going to go. I put the buoy into Jerry's hands and told him to hang on to it because I did not know if he could swim. We were thrown into the water."

He and Mr Stanley got on to the upturned boat while Mr Peter Chandler and Mr Derry Cronin hung to it. Mr Spillane was clinging to the buoy and said he was all right.

"A crowd of about eight or 10 people gathered on the shore. They were just looking but doing nothing. I shouted but they could not hear. So I stood up on the boat and made signs to get them to ring for help. I saw one woman run off.

"I began to panic when I saw the expanse of the harbour opening in front of us as we drifted and I swam the 30 yards to shore. Although an experienced swimmer, I was struggling after five yards because the current was very strong and the water was freezing."

He said he warned Mr Spillane not to swim because he was wearing a heavy one-piece fisherman's suit. "There was no way he could have swum in it."

None of the five on board was wearing a life-jacket. "There were life-jackets available. We all got the opportunity to wear one but none of us did."

The coroner, Dr Frank O'Connell, said the primary cause of death was drowning but hypothermia played a big part. "He was in the water for 10 to 15 minutes. The cold disabled him and hastened his death. If it was summer he might well have survived."

He paid tribute to the rescue services, the Garda and locals who launched a massive search to locate Mr Spillane's body, which was found at Whitepoint a month later.