Snorkeler’s death was misadventure

A Coroner’s Jury has determined that a cruise ship passenger on a snorkel trip died by misadventure.

Queen’s Coroner Nova Hall conducted the inquest into the death of Annabel Lee Yu-Mei, 39, of Taiwan. She was a passenger aboard the Voyager of the Seas, which came to Grand Cayman on 16 February 2005.

Recently appointed government pathologist Dr. John Heidingsfelder explained the autopsy report prepared by the pathologist who did the post mortem examination, Dr. Nadia Williams. Her conclusion was that Ms Yu-Mei’s death was due to asphyxia consistent with drowning.

The jury heard from Mr. Silverio Brandt Watson, a diver who worked aboard the Mermaid. The day of the incident he prepared the vessel for passengers who had pre-booked for two snorkel trips.

There were 117 passengers. Snorkel gear was handed out, including snorkel, fins and vest. All snorkelers must wear a life vest or snorkel vest and be briefed on the use of gear, he said.

No passenger showed any sign of not understanding the briefing. When they reached the Barrier Reef in North Sound, the passengers started jumping in the water.

Mr. Watson said he recalled three women who appeared to be of Chinese nationality. The one who looked the oldest appeared to not want to go into the water. He helped the other two get into the water and hold onto an O-ring.

He saw the older lady sit on the bottom deck with the snorkel gear in her hand.

He guided the other two women. One of them said she was tired because she was having trouble breathing, so he gave her to another lifeguard. Minutes later he saw that lifeguard pulling the woman onto the boat.

When the captain sounded the horn, they swam back to the boat. The captain then counted the passengers and said all were accounted for. Mr. Watson said he did not see the older woman at that time, but she could have been anywhere on the boat.

When they got to Stingray City, one of the Chinese girls came to him and said she could not find the older woman. He and the captain checked the whole boat, then went back to Barrier Reef but did not find her.

Later they received a radio transmission that another boat had picked up a woman and taken her to shore.

‘I still cannot understand how this lady turned up dead because she refused to get in the water and I saw her on the boat,’ Mr. Watson said.

The coroner then read a statement from Lu Hui Ying, friend of the deceased. Her statement was given in Chinese and translated by a local resident.

Ms Hui Ying said she and her two friends were ready for snorkelling. Annabel Lee found her life jacket could not pump up. Therefore she had to return to the ship to replace a new one. So many people were in the group they got separated. She returned to the ship first, then her other friend. Together they looked for Annabel but could not find her, then went to the crew.

Mr. Alistair Clarke and Mr. Steven Foster, both dive instructors with Red Sail Sports, provided details of seeing a woman floating in the water and pulling her out. There was no movement.

They had found her in 10-15 feet of water, about 100 yards away from the Mermaid and two other boats. They carried her to shore, where they were met by an ambulance crew.

Mr. Eugene Badresingh was the captain of the Mermaid. According to his statement, he carried cruise ship passengers from the Yacht Club to the snorkel sites. He left with 117 passengers and three life savers.

When he arrived at the barrier reef, three ladies needed help, as they declared they were not good swimmers. A senior lifeguard offered to accompany them and two accepted. The third, Annabel Lee, decided not to go. She said she was scared, so she went and sat on the glass-bottom deck. She, a pregnant woman and a young child stayed on board.

About 10.35am he called all the passengers back on board the boat and went to the next site, anchoring at 10.46. The two women came to him and said their friend was missing.

He detailed the search for the missing woman, including a call to another boat in the area.

On arrival at Barrier Reef, he added, 114 passengers went in the water and 114 were counted back on the boat assuming the remaining three were still on board.

The police officer who investigated the matter noted that the two women with Ms Yu-Mei spoke very little English.

He also told the court that the snorkel gear worn by Ms Yu-Mei had been turned over to the Department of Environment for examination. He later received a statement which he attached to the file.

The coroner did not find the statement and asked the officer if he recalled its contents. His recollection was that the vest was not holding air; it was defective.

The jury, which did not ask any questions of any witness, returned a unanimous verdict of misadventure.