Squall turned fishing trip fatal

Oscar Shaw’s drowning was misadventure, jury finds

An inquest earlier this month into the death of Oscar Shaw, 60, resulted in a verdict of misadventure after a Coroner’s Jury heard evidence of the circumstances in which he drowned.

Three of the witnesses called by Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik were the men with whom Mr. Shaw had gone fishing on the afternoon of Saturday, 25 June, 2011 in the waters off Grand Cayman. That day they were in the 18-foot vessel Nite Fisher, which had a 115-horse power engine and was owned by John Schirn.

He, Julius Jacky and Justin Jacky gave the court their accounts of what happened when a squall started moving in.

Justin, 19 at the time, said he had gone fishing with the men since he was 12 and he always felt safe with Mr. Schirn at the wheel.

He said they launched around 2pm from Lobster Pot in George Town and went to an area off the Esso tanks in South Sound. They were fishing about an hour when a squall hit.

Normally, they would just stay where they were, but this time Mr. Shaw wanted to move out of the squall. Mr. Schirn decided to use power to move back to the anchor point, which was in shallower water. Justin said his father started to pull up the anchor, but a rogue wave pushed the boat and it crossed over the anchor rope. The rope got caught in the propeller and killed the engine. Mr. Schirn and Mr. Shaw tried to free the rope while Justin and his dad were bailing.

The boat was stern to the waves and taking on water. Then Mr. Schirn said he thought the boat would go under and they should all prepare to jump clear. As the men went to get life jackets, the boat tipped sideways and went over and they jumped into the water.

He managed to grab the lid of a cooler and when his dad swam over to him, they shared it. He saw Mr. Schirn treading water and he looked okay. Then he saw Mr. Shaw, who looked panicked and was about to float away.

“I am a strong swimmer,” Justin told the court. “I made my way to him. He seemed to be in difficulty. I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got you.’” Then Justin got Mr. Shaw on his back to carry him. He saw a boat coming toward them (a dive boat from Sunset House). He saw crew members throw life preservers to his father and Mr. Schirn, but he and Mr. Shaw were further away and being pushed by the current.

The crew threw more life preservers, but Justin said he couldn’t reach them. He started to swim with Mr. Shaw toward the boat. Waves were washing over them and Mr. Shaw started to panic and push him down. Justin said he had to dive down out of his shirt to get free. He saw a small cooler cover, grabbed it and gave it to Mr. Shaw, telling him to hang onto it while Justin swam to the dive boat to get help.

When he got to the boat he was pulled aboard and not allowed to go back for Mr. Shaw. Instead, two of the crew swam out after throwing another life preserver. The crew brought Mr. Shaw back to the boat. He was foaming at the mouth and they immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Mr. Schirn was still in the water. He was snagged by rope and fishing line. Justin said he put on a life vest, grabbed some scissors and dove into the water to cut Mr. Schirn free. When the two of them got back to the dive boat, the crew was still working on Mr. Shaw, They were taken to Sunset House, where paramedics met the boat and took Mr. Shaw to hospital.

Justin said while he, his father and Mr. Schirn were waiting for transport, they learned Mr. Shaw had died.

Dr. Shravana Jyoti, government pathologist, provided an autopsy report that referred to conditions consistent with drowning; these included enlarged lungs weighing 1,420 grams when the expected weight would have been around 850 grams. Laboratory tests were negative for both drugs and alcohol.

Mr. Jyoti said there were blunt force injuries to the head, which presumably were sustained during the capsize of the boat. In and of themselves, they did not appear to be the cause of death. He shared his opinion that death was caused by drowning in sea water. He added that an acute cardiac event along with panic attack and fatigue would have been contributing factors.

The jury adopted his findings as to cause of death and returned a verdict of misadventure.