Grim year on Cayman waters

It’s
been an unusually deadly year thus far in the waters surrounding the Cayman
Islands.

The
accidents that have claimed nine lives from January through last weekend on
Grand Cayman are mainly the result of what are considered extremely unusual
occurrences compared to events in previous years.

In
2008 and 2009, a total of 18 people died in watersports-related incidents in
Cayman waters. Ten of them were divers, six were snorkelers or swimmers and the
other two were killed in fishing incidents.

All
but two of the victims from that period were visitors, and only two of those
visitors were younger than 50. Those statistics mirror events from 2006 and
2007, when Cayman lost 10 and eight people respectively in watersports
incidents. Again, almost all of those involved swimming and diving, and most of
the victims were tourists.

This
year couldn’t be more different in terms of fatalities related to watersports.

Five
of the six people who died this year in accidents involving watercraft were
lost after their canoe overturned in the North Sound during heavy weather in
January. The sixth victim, 20-year-old Mark Lopez, was on a Wave Runner that
crashed into the South Sound dock on Sunday, 4 July, according to Royal Cayman
Islands Police. 

The
five boaters who left in a 32-foot fast canoe the morning of 10 January have
never been found. It is presumed that Raynel Wood, Astor Range, Joshua Gilman,
Jeamie Avila and Michelle Wood are deceased.

It
was not known whether Sunday’s choppy sea conditions played a role in Mr.
Lopez’s death, but they certainly were to blame in the January capsizing that
claimed the five boaters in the North Sound.

Of
the three swimmers who have died this year, one was relatively young – local
musician Michael Greene, 43 – who police said had gone swimming one Sunday
morning and never returned.

The
second victim was an accomplished swimmer who was taking part in the annual
Flowers Sea Swim. It was believed that Wendy Louise Buckner, 50, of Winnipeg,
Canada, suffered heart failure after completing the mile ocean swim.

Health
officials found the incident unusual, but a formal cause of death had not been
released at press time.

“In
this case she was an exceptional, high-level athlete who was used to swimming
outdoors in the heat,” Health Services Authority Medical Director Dr. Greg
Hoeksema said at the time.

The
third swimmer to pass away in Cayman this year was 66-year-old Matthew Blaszko
of New Jersey, USA. Mr. Blaszko lost consciousness while swimming near the Paradise
Bar and Grill on North Church Street.

Only
two of the people who have died in watersports incidents this year have been
tourists. All the others were either Caymanians or Island residents.

The
number of fatalities – nine in roughly the first six months of 2010 – is equal
to the average number Cayman has experienced on its waterways in each of the
past four years.

Police
have consistently advised boaters to take precautions before heading out and
stressed the importance of filing a “float plan” with the port before heading
out.

RCIPS
Marine Unit officers also advise boaters to tell a friend or relative where
they are going and why – providing a departure and return time. Essential safety
equipment such as life jackets and a VHF marine radio should be on board,
police said.

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