Woman died after snorkelling incident

A woman who lost consciousness during a snorkelling incident was declared dead the next day, a Coroner’s Jury heard on 19 October.

The jury returned a verdict of misadventure after hearing details surrounding the death of Kathleen Binkley in December 2003.

Mrs. Binkley, 61, had come to Cayman with her husband for a week’s vacation.

Queen’s Coroner Margaret Ramsay-Hale read statements to the jury because none of the witnesses was on island any more.

Mr. Binkley, 61, said he was a former a scuba diver and had done a lot of snorkelling. His wife had done some snorkelling. The day before the incident they went to Cemetery Reef. She wore her vest and was fine.

On 9 December they went on a trip aboard the Bob Soto’s vessel Cayman Bear. They got into the water at the first stop and when they were about 75 – 100 metres from the boat his wife started to panic. She said she was tired and wanted to get back to the boat.

Mr. Binkley said he started to pull her toward the boat, but felt a cramp in his leg and had to let her go. He was trying to get rid of the cramp and she was drifting, so they both began calling for help. Some crew members came and helped them.

He said his wife had no known medical problems. They had been married one year and he didn’t know if she had insurance.

Boat captain David Marcel and crew member Natalie Boni described the incident in their statements. Both left Cayman shortly after Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

Mr. Marcel said there were 26 customers and three staff on board. The weather was fine. The first stop was Coral Garden. After a briefing, everyone was helped into the water.

Mr. and Mrs. Binkley were the first people to go in. Then another customer said he thought they needed help. They were about 200 feet from the boat, seven feet apart. Mrs. Binkley was on her back, trying to swim toward the boat and Mr. Binkley was treading water.

Mr. Marcel said he put on fins and swam over to them. Mrs. Binkley asked for help and Mr. Binkley said he was okay.

Mr. Marcel held her up and inflated her vest and began towing her to the boat. Then Mr. Binkley started screaming help, so he towed the woman toward the man and let her go because she was floating. He held onto Mr. Binkley, who tried to climb on top of him so that Mr. Marcel had to push him off.

Then he got behind Mr. Binkley and held him under the arm with one hand while using his other hand to hold onto Mrs. Binkley’s vest. He started back to the boat and yelled for help.

Both Ms Boni and photographer Tara Bradley jumped in. The women tended to Mrs. Binkley and he continued assisting Mr. Binkley.

Near the boat, he saw them administer rescue breath to Mrs. Binkley. After making sure Mr. Binkley was safe, he went to assist the others. They checked for pulse and there was none. They started CPR and two people from Captain Jimmy’s boat came and helped. Mr. Binkley was rubbing his wife’s feet and saying, ‘Come on, Skippy.’

Other customers were brought back on board and the boat started to shore. Headquarters had been alerted and the speedboat Stroke of Luck came alongside. Mrs. Binkley was strapped to a flat board and transferred to the faster boat after a round of CPR.

In a supplementary statement, Mr. Marcel said when he first got to Mrs. Binkley, her vest was a little less than half inflated. He was not able to say if that was how it was when she got into the water.

Ms Boni’s account was similar. She added that she gave vests to the customers and told them how they work. She told them to check with her if there was any problem blowing up the vest. She could not say if she assisted Mrs. Binkley or how her vest was prior to going into the water.

The coroner also read in the statement of Dr. Paul Buckley. He said the patient arrived at George Town hospital at 12.44. By the time he saw her there was no sign of recovering consciousness. Mrs. Binkley was transferred to the intensive care unit and put on a mechanical ventilator. The cerebral function monitor showed little activity.

Her condition deteriorated and she went into cardiac arrest around 10.45am on 10 December. She was pronounced dead at 10.55.

Government pathologist Dr. John Heidingsfelder explained the medical evidence to the jury. He said Mrs. Binkley had been unable to breathe on her own because of the severe brain injury, so she was put on the ventilator. The cerebral monitor, used to measure the electrical activity of the brain, showed little activity, which meant that her brain had died or was dying.

Dr. Morgan, who performed the autopsy, had listed cause of death as anoxic brain damage and salt water drowning.

Dr. John said anoxia means lack of oxygen. Mrs. Binkley’s lungs were three times their normal weight from water taken in.

If Mrs. Binkley panicked in the water, she would have exerted a lot of energy, Dr. John said. ‘If you are tired you are more likely to drown.’

The final statement was from the police officer investigating the sudden death. He reported no evidence of foul play and said the findings were not of a suspicious nature.

Mrs. Binkley died without regaining consciousness.

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