Friday 22 September 2017

Fall from winch 'did not play part in death of scout'

Aoife Winterlich
Aoife Winterlich

Louise Roseingrave

A coastguard crew winching two scouts from the sea simultaneously had never performed the operation before, an inquest heard.

Aoife Winterlich (14), from Walkinstown, Dublin 12, was on a weekend scout trip on December 6, 2015, when she and fellow scout Philip Byrne were swept out to sea from rocks at Hook Head Lighthouse shortly after 2pm.

Aoife was knockd unconscious almost immediately, Dublin Coroner's Court heard.

The Waterford Coast Guard helicopter arrived at 2.15pm. The crew winched both casualties to safety, but unconscious Aoife slipped from her harness and fell 40ft into the sea.

Pathologist Professor Maureen O'Sullivan said there was no evidence of trauma from the fall. "It is unlikely the fall contributed to her demise. The damage was done in her initial immersion," she said.

There were no significant injuries to the body besides bruises and scrapes. The cause of death was brain damage due to a near drowning.

Aoife was winched back to the helicopter within 75 seconds and transferred to Waterford General Hospital and later to Crumlin Children's Hospital where she was pronounced dead five days later.

Scouting Ireland CEO John Lawlor described the trip as a "low-risk activity" because it wasn't intended that the scouts would go outside the compound walls. Leaders Stuart Garland and Leanne Bradley said the group was told to stay within the walls.

But in his evidence, Philip said he didn't recall being told by the leaders not to go down to the rocks. He and Aoife saw others going over the wall.

"We'd seen the boys there previously and it looked cool so we went down. I knew there were rocks and waves but it didn't look dangerous," he said. A series of waves knocked them off their feet and Aoife was swept out, the court heard.

"It knocked me and Aoife off our feet. We fell but we didn't think anything was serious. Then another wave came and she got pulled out," he said.

"She was submerged in the water and then managed to get to a rock. She was sort of semi-conscious, rubbing her head. Another wave came and she was submerged again. I got hold of her. I swam out further because I was afraid of us getting smashed on the rocks."

Winch operator Neville Murphy said he had never been in this situation before.

"This is unprecedented. Two people in the water, that generally doesn't happen. We can only train to certain limits," he said. Winch man Sean Jennings was holding onto both casualties when Aoife slipped and fell.

"We were going into a spin and I had to stop either casualty coming into contact with the aircraft. The mechanics of how she came out of the strop I don't know," he said. There is no instruction or training for such a situation, the court heard.

The inquest was adjourned until next month.

Irish Independent

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