US Sailing Independent Report on the sailing accident at Annapolis
by John Rousmaniere on 30 Oct 2011
An Independent Study Report reviewing the youth sailing 420 tragedy on Severn River at Annapolis has been released:
Following a fatal sailing accident at Annapolis on June 23, 2011, the Severn Sailing Association invited the United States Sailing Association to send representatives to Annapolis to discuss the incident with its officers and staff. The meeting was held at Eastport Yacht Club on July 6 with the following in attendance: SSA Commodore Hal Whitacre, US Sailing President Gary Jobson, Henry Filter (chair, SSA Junior Co), Joel Labuzetta (Junior Program Director, SSA), Nan Walker (Office Manager, SSA), Jack Gierhart (Executive Director, US Sailing), Janine Ahmed Connelly (Training Director, US Sailing), and myself (Safety at Sea Committee, US Sailing).
After an extremely informative and at times emotionally wrenching discussion, Hal Whitacre asked US Sailing to appoint an independent review of the incident. I was asked to conduct this review, and my aims are these: provide a factual narrative of the accident and the response, make findings, and offer recommendations that could be helpful to SSA and all sailors.
A chain of small events quickly evolved into something very rare in sailing – a tragedy. The wind and waves were not excessive, the sailors were competent, and the boat was a standard model of a long-popular class. Yet a routine capsize rapidly developed into the drowning death of a much beloved young woman, Olivia Constants.
She wore an appropriate Coast Guard-approved life jacket that, as the brave efforts of her young skipper showed, would have carried her up and into the air pocket of the capsized boat had Olivia not become tangled in the rigging.
The nearby coaches and instructors acted promptly and came to her assistance to administer CPR. Trained to observe the rule, 'If you think you need to call 911, call 911!', a young instructor made a mobile phone call that brought a fire department ambulance to a nearby point of land at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the boat landed and transferred Olivia.
The response of the Severn Sailing Association off the water was also quick. The Commodore, the Junior Program Director, and others improvised a crisis plan while immediately addressing the emotional needs of the young sailors, their families, and the instructors.
Less than three hours after the accident, a psychiatrist met with the instructional staff in the first of several counseling sessions. The club conducted a careful review of its sailing program and its risks, making changes at Annapolis, while perhaps hundreds of other sailing programs across North America also reviewed their equipment and procedures. 'It really struck home with a lot of sailors,' said one parent of the accident.
That this is the case suggests a number of areas that deserve attention and research.
The full report can be read online here
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