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Powerboat Loses Control With Loss of 2 Lives

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01.05.2024

Powerboat Loses Control With Loss of 2 Lives

MAIB Report on Accident in British Virgin Islands

On the early evening of 2 October 2022, the mono-hulled offshore powerboat 'Awesome' was returning to its home port when it unexpectedly veered to starboard, then rolled violently to port, ejecting ten occupants. 

'Awesome' ended up in a vertical position, with its bow in the air, briefly staying afloat before it started to sink by the stern. Two of the occupants did not  survive the accident.

Three local boats were quickly on scene, and ten of the eleven occupants were located and taken to the shore. Five-year-old Brianna Graham was rushed to hospital, where she was declared deceased shortly afterwards. Despite an extensive and coordinated search effort, the eleventh occupant, 32-year-old Kristal Black, remained missing. Divers later found her body in the forward cabin of Awesome during a pre-salvage inspection of the wreck on the seabed.

The investigation concluded that the loss of control of Awesome was the result of a sudden mechanical failure. It was determined that the deceased were likely to have been rendered unconscious during the accident and subsequently drowned. No recommendations have been made in this report.

Analysis

The purpose of the analysis is to determine the contributory causes and circumstances of the accident as a basis for making recommendations to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future.

From witness testimony and expert analysis, it is probable that Awesome was travelling at about 60 mph when the port drive shaft universal joint failed, the flailing shaft then severed a steering system hydraulic pressure hose. This resulted in a loss of pressure in the steering system, which allowed both stern drive units to snap over to full starboard lock while Awesome was still travelling at about 60 mph.

Awesome turned sharply to starboard, which briefly lifted the stern of the hull clear of the water, allowing the boat to move laterally. As it landed, the hull suddenly gripped the surface of the water and caused the boat to trip violently to port and suddenly decelerate, ejecting everyone except Kristal Black from the boat.

As Awesome continued to move forward, driven by the starboard engine, eyewitness accounts confirmed that its bow reared up in the air with sufficient force for the boat to leave the water. Awesome fell back into the water as momentum was lost, most likely with Kristal floating unconscious in the cockpit area. When Awesome sank, Kristal was washed into the forward cabin through its open door and became trapped.

Brianna was recovered unresponsive from the water and it is most likely she hit Awesome’s dashboard during the accident and this rendered her unconscious.
It is possible that the position of the step in Awesome’s hull and the fitting of the standoff boxes, to which the stern drives were mounted, added to the severity of the accident.

It is likely that the port side of the hull was damaged when it impacted the water at high speed during the violent roll to port, and that the engine cover became dislodged at the same time.

Other possible causes of the accident that were considered included wave action and collision with another vessel or debris in the water. The investigation found no evidence that Awesome came into contact with anything in the water and the sea state was flat calm. None of the vessels transiting the area at the time would have created a significant disturbing force on the sea’s surface.

Seating

Awesome had dedicated seating for five people in the cockpit area but at the time of the accident it was travelling with eleven people on board (Figure 11). There were four adults seated across the three rear seats, two children occupying the port side front seat area, and three adults were standing. Few, if any, were able to access dedicated handholds or benefit from the restraining nature of the seating. Kristal was holding her young son on her lap and this would have significantly compromised her ability to hold on or brace herself. It is likely that Kristal Black impacted the handle on the back of the port side front seat with sufficient force to knock her unconscious during the accident. When her body was found by the divers, her fingernails were intact and her arms and legs were not bruised, suggesting she was unconscious when she ended up in the cabin and had made no attempt to escape before she drowned.

As Brianna was sitting in Awesome’s driving seat, it is likely that her head impacted the dashboard during the accident, causing the subdural haemorrhage. It is probable that the impact rendered Brianna unconscious and this, coupled with the fact that she was not wearing a PFD, contributed to her drowning.

With Brianna seated in the driver’s seat, the owner had to lean across her to access the engines’ throttles while steering the boat with their right hand. The owner was therefore not in full control of the boat. When travelling at speed, it is good practice to always have one hand on the engine throttles and to steer with the other hand. Not having direct access to the steering and throttles while travelling at around 60 mph was unsafe, especially when not wearing the kill cords. It could not be determined whether the owner would have had time to react to the loss of the port drive shaft, but they would have had more opportunity to pull back both engine throttles to lessen the severity of the accident had they been sitting in the driver’s seat.

The carrying of 11 people, some of them young children, on board a boat with dedicated seating for 5 put many of Awesome’s passengers at significant risk of injury in the event of a crash. This risk was realised, and 2 people tragically lost their lives, when Awesome lost directional control while travelling at high speed.

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