All sailing parents will be watching for the outcome of investigations which are continuing about the tragic death of a 14-year-old sailing student who was wearing a life jacket but trapped underwater by her harness when sailing with another student this week in a 420 dinghy.
While one experienced sailor in the Annapolis area where the incident happened said it was bizarre and 'less likely than being struck by lightning', investigations are not completed yet as to precisely what led to the young student's death.
Investigators said Olivia Constants, 14, who was taking lessons with the long-established Severn Sailing Association Junior Sailing Program, was trapped underwater for several minutes after her boat capsized around 3:15 p.m. Thursday. Based on a preliminary investigation, they believe the harness she was wearing 'got entangled in the rigging of the sailboat,' said state Department of Natural Resources Police spokesman Sgt. Art Windemuth.
The sailing school guide saw that Constants was underwater, reached her, and took her to shore, performing CPR, Windemuth said.
Windemuth said Constants, who was wearing a life jacket, and another sailing student were the only people aboard the 420 — a boat that's 4.2 metres long, or a little under 14 feet — when the boat capsized.
While investigators are still trying to determine what caused the accident the boat has been seized, standard practice during the investigation of a fatal accident.
Windemuth said that in the 25 years that he has been with the Natural Resources Police, this is the first time to his knowledge that a harness has caused a fatal accident.
Voorhis, an expert member of another sailing club said that although the 420 is a common training boat, it is not typical for harnesses to be used unless the student is fairly advanced. Although the release mechanism on trapeze harness hooks varies among brands and models, in certain situations the pressure on the harness clasp can make it difficult to unfasten, he said.
Over the past 10 years, quick-release mechanisms have become more common on sailing harnesses, said Steve Mazur, a customer service representative at Annapolis Performance Sailing, which sells many types of harnesses.