Lifejacket left in car may have averted tragedy says investigation

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AN investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) into the incident that claimed the life of Stephen Fergus last year claims that the lack of a lifejacket was key factor in the death of the popular local man.

The report also says that Mr Fergus went to the aid of his friend without hesitation, and that a strong tidal current and fatigue may have been contributing factors in his death.

On the afternoon of 12 February Mr Fergus went to the aid his friend Mr Pat O’Brien, who had run into difficult.

Tragically, Mr Fergus never made it to his friends boat, and the investigation suggests in the transfer from a friends punt to his own boat, that he went into the water.

According to the report: “On the afternoon of Saturday 12th February 2012 Mr Stephen Fergus was at home in Dundalk. He received a phone call to come to the assistance of his friend Mr Pat O’Brien. Mr O’Brien was in his boat, anchored on the North side of the estuary of Dundalk harbour. Mr Fergus left home and went to make his way to his own boat which was moored at a buoy on the south side of the estuary of Dundalk harbour. To get to his boat Mr Fergus had to use a small punt. He walked out along the mudflat to the punt, untied it and proceeded to walk toward his boat pulling the punt behind him.

“After some time Mr O’Brien became anxious as Mr Fergus had not arrived to assist him. Mr O’Brien contacted Mr Fergus’s home to discover that he had left home and should have arrived to assist him. The alarm was raised and the emergency services were alerted. Mr Fergus’s body and the submerged punt were recovered from the estuary later that evening.”

The report goes into the details about factors that came into play on the day, several of which the MCIB believe ultimately contributed to the Mr Fergus’s untimely death.

“Mr Fergus responded immediately. He put on a jump suit, work jacket and waders and drove in his car to near Soldiers Point. He did not take his mobile phone with him. He walked out to where the small punt was moored, untied it and proceeded out to his own boat. He was not wearing a life jacket. The Board understands that two life jackets were subsequently found to have been left in his car.

“There were no witnesses to the incident, thus it has not been possible to determine the cause. The location at which Mr Fergus’s boots were found adjacent to his boat and the fact that the punt was not overturned indicate to the Board that he was attempting to transfer from the punt to his boat when he got into difficulties.

“The tidal current was strong at the time of the incident. Working alone, Mr Fergus, in order to effect the transfer to his boat would have had to manoeuvre the punt up to his boat and then attempt to secure the punt to his boat whilst coping with this tidal current.”

“The Board understands that Mr Fergus was an amiable helpful person. He had been out early in his boat for the morning. He had eaten lunch and was relaxing at home. When called upon, he responded without hesitation, hurrying out to his boat. Thus, the urgency of his response coupled with elements of tiredness and fatigue from his earlier activities may have affected his ability to cope with the task.”

The investigation draws the conclusion that “Mr Fergus was not wearing a life jacket. He was alone and had no means of alerting anyone to the fact that he was in difficulty. Mr Fergus’s boat was moored adjacent to a strong tidal stream on the mudflats.”

The report reiterated the importance of water safety measures such as wearing a lifejacket and having a means of alert when on or near the water.