Unfortunately, the findings of the Chicago-Mac race deaths don’t provide us with any simple answers. The debate will go on as to whether or not tethers and PFDs should be modified to prevent entanglement.
The Charlevoix County Michigan U.S. Sheriff Don Schneider’s investigation into the double fatality in the 2011 Chicago to Mackinac Race was released last Friday.
During the second night of the race, at the height of a very severe storm which crossed the northern part of Lake Michigan, Mark Morley, the 51-year-old skipper of the 35-foot sailboat WingNuts, and 40-year-old Makowski-Bickel died.
The deaths were primarily the result of blunt force trauma sustained when their boat capsized, according to the autopsy report. Schneider’s investigation reports that both victims sustained “tremendous trauma” to their faces and heads when Morley’s 35-foot WingNuts capsized on July 18 in 70- to 80-knot winds. The secondary cause of death was drowning, the report said.
“Whether they were unconscious or dazed to the point where they couldn’t help themselves, I’m sure there are a number of factors that contributed to their deaths,” Schneider said.
According to the report, Morley was found vertical in the water with his head up, under the boat, and the diver was able to unclip his tether. Makowski-Bickel was so entangled in the boat’s lines and rigging that the diver had to cut her loose, according to the report.
The Charlevoix County Sheriff in the 150-page report raised concerns about both PFD’s and tethers.
While the sheriff says PFDs and tethers are necessary safety wear for sailors he asks if some modifications need to be made based on what happened to the crew of the WingNuts.
“We’re certainly presenting them, here’s the problem, the experts can come up with the solutions,” said Schneider.
“If you’ve got a self-inflating PFD, and you find yourself upside down in the boat, under the boat, that self-inflating PFD could cause your death, because it could keep you under the boat” said Schneider.
When the boat capsized, it was reported that the surviving crew had a hard time freeing themselves.
For the complete story, go to www.sail-world.com.