A MUM-of-three was tragically killed when she fell overboard from a Broads hire cruiser and was sucked into its spinning propeller.
Laura Perry, 38, was heading into the cabin to help her crying four-year-old son when the 42ft boat jolted against a river wall causing her to lose balance and fall into the water on August 19, 2020.
Norfolk Coroner’s Court in Norwich was told how she was sucked into the four-bladed spinning propeller and became trapped under the cruiser where she died of drowning and multiple injuries in the River Bure at Great Yarmouth.
Her sister, who was at the upper helm of the boat, could have prevented her death by pressing an emergency stop button in the moment before the impact, but she did not know where it was, the inquest was told.
The tragedy happened when Ms Perry of Bermondsey, South London, was on the third day of a five-day cruising holiday with her partner, James Allen, their three sons aged 16, 14 and four, her sister, parents and 16-year-old niece.
The family had been scheduled a half hour slot for the handover of their cruiser called Diamond Emblem 1 when they picked it up from the Ferry Marina boatyard in Horning, Norfolk.
But they arrived late and Mr Allen and Ms Perry’s sister were given only ten minutes instruction about the controls of the boat before being allowed to sail away.
Graham Wilson, deputy chief inspector of the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB), told the inquest that the that the hire company considered the level of instruction adequate as the pair had used hire boats on previous holidays.
Mr Allen was also sent a link to an online video tutorial lasting just over six minutes, but it was not seen by Ms Perry’s sister.
A report by the MAIB described the handover and video as “cursory and incomplete” when it was “imperative” that it should be “complete and vigorous” to ensure users were able to have safe control.
Most read in The Sun
CAN'T GO BACK 90s rock icon's dad dies as legendary frontman pays tribute
SUN QUEEN Hoops Wag leaves little to the imagination as she stuns fans with backless bikini
BOOBY TRAP My big boobs make outfits 'sexual,' I want cute dress to meet boyfriend's family
'CURSORY & INCOMPLETE'
The inquest heard how the boat had two helms for steering and operating controls with one on the upper deck and the other in the cabin with a lever to transfer control between the two positions.
But Mr Wilson said: “No one on board fully understood the functionality of the dual helm controls and the driver was unaware of the upper engine stop button.”
He added that “insufficient knowledge of the changeover process” and “insufficient communication” between those on the boat were possible factors in the tragedy.
He added that there were no guard rails on the rear deck, and that they would probably have prevented Ms Perry from falling into the water if they had been present.
Mr Wilson also concluded that the set of steps leading down from the upper deck on the outside of the boat at the rear were a potential risk to those on board.
He said: “It exposes people to the risk of falling overboard in the way of the propeller which is quite unforgiving.”
BOAT COMPLIED WITH LEGAL STANDARDS
But the inquest heard that the boat complied with all legal standards when it was built in 2010, including having enough hand grab rails for people to hold on to.
The accident happened after the family decided to head to Great Yarmouth for “shopping and sightseeing” with Ms Perry’s oldest son at the helm in the cabin while supervised by his father.
Mr Wilson said the family were five minutes away from the town when Ms Perry’s sister who was at the upper helm asked to take over control, and heard someone shout back, “OK, it’s all yours”.
But the family were told that there was no room for them to moor at the Great Yarmouth Yacht Station, and they realised the high tide meant they would not be able to get under a bridge further down the river.
Ms Perry’s sister started turning the boat, but ended up accelerating forwards when she tried to put the cruiser into reverse and its bows hit a boat moored at the side of a river.
The inquest heard how the impact caused minor damage to both vessels and smashed a wine glass in the cabin of the Diamond Emblem 1, leading to Ms Perry’s father heading down into the cabin to comfort his crying four-year-old grandson.
Mr Wilson said it had been concluded that the handle giving full control to the upper helm had not been activated, meaning that Ms Perry’s sister was unable to switch between forward and reverse gears, although she could steer and control acceleration.
Ms Perry’s sister did not realise there was an emergency stop on her upper helm and shouted down to someone to press the emergency stop in the cabin, but nothing happened.
The inquest heard it was unclear how the boat had been put into reverse, but it might have been done by Ms Perry’s father when he was trying to stop the engine.
Mr Wilson said: “When the commotion occurred, Laura walked aft on the upper deck and climbed down the stairs. She started to go through the door to tend to her son who was crying below.
“Sadly at the exact moment she opened the aft door, that is when the Diamond Emblem 1 hit the wall quite heavily. It bounces off the wall and at that point Laura is violently thrown backwards into the water.”
He added that it appeared Ms Perry grabbed on to a curtain for support, pulling off a section of material before “somersaulting” into the water.
Mr Wilson said: “Because the boat had its astern propulsion, the boat came back against a wall. Laura was sucked into the propeller and becomes entangled with it.”
He added that a mooring rope had been loosely stored at the aft of the boat instead of being properly cleated, and fell into the water where it also became entangled with Ms Perry and the propeller.
Mr Wilson said no family members saw Ms Perry fall, but they realised she had gone in the water when they could no longer see her on the boat.
ATTEMPTS TO SAVE HER
Her partner and sister both jumped into the river, but were unable to save her before she “died almost instantaneously”, and her body was eventually recovered by divers.
Mr Wilson said the “harrowing” scene was captured on CCTV at the yacht station.
He added: “She just opened the door at the wrong time. My belief is that she just grabbed what she could. If she had grabbed the handrail that was available she would probably not have fallen overboard.
“It is incredibly unfortunate that Laura happened to be where she was with nothing to grab on to. She was actually three feet from the back of the boat.
“Had she had taken one step further into the cabin space it is unlikely she would have fallen overboard.”
Norfolk area coroner Yvonne Blake said: “It’s almost like a perfect storm with the rope falling into the water at the same time.”
The inquest heard how the design of the boat met European standards for leisure craft in rivers which were introduced in 1998.
International standards for vessels with dual helm positions were updated in 2012 to require lights to prevent mix-ups by showing which helm position had full control of a boat.
Read more on the Scottish Sun
But the inquest heard that there were no legal requirements for the Diamond Emblem 1 to have been fitted with such a system retrospectively.
The inquest continues.