Man who fell overboard wasn't wearing his life jacket

August 1st, 2017 7:30 PM

By Southern Star Team

The Bluebird boat which was recovered after the accident.

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A FISHING trip that turned to tragedy off the West Cork coast last year could have ended differently if the unfortunate victim been wearing a life jacket, according to a report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

Avid angler, Michael John O'Brien (69), originally from Rossbrin near Schull, set off with his son from Rossbrin Cove on the morning of August 15th 2016. 

An experienced angler, Mr O'Brien, who had recently had a hip operation, was known to go fishing on board his 5.5m boat Bluebird II three or four times a week during the summer months. 

Following his hip operation, the fisherman had needed crutches to move about and had arranged with his son to help him get onboard and to disembark from his fishing boat.

It was around 11.30am that he headed out, on board Bluebrid II, for a day's fishing around the Calf Islands. He had arranged to phone his son later that afternoon when he returned to the mooring at Rossbrin.

Michael O'Brien was in contact by mobile phone with his son and wife later that afternoon and reported no difficulty or anything out of the ordinary. 

The Bluebird II was spotted at around 3pm by some local fishermen but they could not confirm if there was anyone on board.

At the appointed time, 5pm, his son tried to contact his father to make arrangements to collect him from Rossbrin, but there was no answer. 

After many more failed attempts to reach his father, he contacted the Schull Community Inshore Rescue Service and the crew at the station launched a search for Michael and his boat.

At 8.30pm that evening the Bluebird II was spotted but there was nobody on board. The search continued and at 11.20am the following morning August 16th 2016, a body was recovered from the water, not far from the Calf Islands.

The MCIB report into the tragedy estimated that Michael O'Brien, who was not wearing his lifejacket (PFD), had entered the water sometime between 2.30pm and 5pm. 

The Bluebird II was not equipped with an emergency position indicating radio beacon and the owner did not have a personal location beacon, which the report said would have given his exact location to the shore rescue services.

The report also indicated the man's lack of mobility could have been a major factor, as his crutches were stored behind a bench at the back of the boat.

The report concluded that in all probability the fisherman was using the bulwark (or rail) on Bluebird II as support as he moved about the boat. 

If this was the case, then his centre of gravity would have been above the bulwark and this would have greatly increased his chances of falling over board.

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