A senior executive at broadcaster Sky and his eight-year-old daughter were killed in a speedboat accident after he took control of the steering from his wife to make a sharper turn at full throttle, according to the accident investigators’ report.
The manoeuvre threw Nick Milligan, his wife Victoria and children Amber, 12, Olivia, 10, Emily, eight, and Kit, four, into the water and the out-of-control boat then ran over them a number of times as they floated helplessly.
Mr Milligan, 51, the managing director of Sky's advertising sales division, Sky Media, and Emily were killed, while Mrs Milligan, 39, and the other children were injured. The family, from Wandsworth in London, were on holiday at the time.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said the accident emphasised the need for a “kill cord” to be worn by the driver of a speedboat – this would have cut the engine when they fell into the sea if it had been worn.
The MAIB report, published today, said Mrs Milligan had been at the helm of the boat, called “Milly”, shortly before the accident off the Cornish coast near Padstow on 5 May last year. Mr Milligan had suggested that they should turn to starboard for another run along the Camel Estuary, but his wife had been “reluctant to do so as she did not consider there was sufficient space between the boat and the beach”.
"However, due to encouragement from the children and Mr Milligan, she began a slow, wide turn,” the report said. “Mr Milligan then reached across, in front of his wife, took the helm in his right hand and the throttle in his left, and then increased the engine throttle setting to full as he turned the helm to starboard.
"The boat immediately accelerated and heeled into the turn and then suddenly, and violently, rolled back to port and ejected all its occupants out over the port side and into the water. The boat then continued to circle under full power. The family were on the surface of the water, supported by their lifejackets and buoyancy aids, and the boat circled back towards them, striking several of them."
The investigators concluded that Mr Milligan was likely to have intervened because “he thought that a tighter turn to starboard was required to keep Milly clear of the beach”.
They added that "the manner in which Mr Milligan took the helm appears to have been out of character as he was known to be a safety-conscious and prudent individual”.
The most likely explanation for the kill cord not being attached, the report said, was that Mrs Milligan was expecting to take the boat back to its mooring.
The report added that “it cannot be established” whether some wine Mr Milligan drank earlier that day had “adversely affected his judgment or fine motor skills”, but his alcohol levels were “well below” the drink-drive limit for UK roads.
The boat injured a number of other people in the area until waterskiing instructor Charlie Toogood threw a rope around the propeller then leapt aboard and turned off the engine.
The MAIB report said tests of the craft after the accident found it had some “undesirable handling characteristics in certain circumstances”.
The body’s chief inspector, Steve Clinch, said a kill cord was “an essential item of safety equipment”.
And he added: “Avoiding an accident by knowing your boat's and your own capabilities and limitations is essential.”
The Milligan family said in a statement that they “sincerely hope that awareness of this accident will mean that another family does not have to go through anything similar”.
“We are still coming to terms with this tragic accident which has left us without Nick, a loving husband, father, son and brother, and Emily, whose life was only just beginning,” they said.