Special Olympian swimmer dies during open water event

Athlete was one of two men to perish in local waters

A Special Olympian taking part in an open water sea swim on Saturday was among two people who died in Cayman Islands waters this weekend. 

Pablo Jose Perez Iarza, 41, of Uruguay, was one of several Special Olympics athletes from overseas taking part in the 11th annual Butterfield 800 Metre Sea Swim, organised by Butterfield Bank and the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association. 

Another unrelated incident included an American tourist, named by police late Monday afternoon as 64-year-old Joseph Edward Johnson on Flagstaff, Arizona, who died after getting into difficulty in the Rum Point area Sunday afternoon. 

According to police, 911 received a report about 4.25pm on Saturday of a man being pulled from the water unconscious near Avalon Condominiums, about 25 minutes after the open water sea swim began at Governor’s Beach along the Seven Mile Beach corridor. Emergency personnel transported the victim to Cayman Islands Hospital in George Town, where he was pronounced dead around 5.07pm.  

In a joint statement released Monday morning, Special Olympics Cayman Islands, Butterfield Bank (Cayman) Limited, the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association and the Special Olympics International offered condolences to Mr. Perez Iarza’s family and friends. 

“This is a great loss for the Special Olympics movement and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his coach, his teammates and all of Special Olympics Uruguay,” the statement read. 

Special Olympics Cayman Islands Chairman Nick Freeland thanked medical personnel, including the Red Cross and EMTs, who he said “provided excellent and immediate attention to the swimmer”. 

“All appropriate procedures will now be carried out at George Town hospital … to determine the precise cause of death, which is so far unknown,” Mr. Freeland said. 

Special Olympics athletes and coaches from Uruguay, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Florida, Virginia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela were in Cayman to take part in swim clinics and in Saturday’s sea swim. 

The awards ceremony at the conclusion of Saturday’s swimming event was cancelled, with participants taking part in a prayer. 

Meanwhile, a second man died in the water in North Side the following day.  

Police received a report around 4.15pm Sunday that a man had been missing for 25 minutes off Rum Point Drive.  

The police helicopter crew, who arrived at the scene four minutes after the report was received, spotted the missing man on the reef off the Driftwood area, about 50 yards from shore, while marine and land units were a short distance away. The sea was too rough for the marine launch to get to the reef. 

According to a Royal Cayman Islands Police Service press release Monday, “Due to the urgency of the situation, the helicopter crew made the tactical decision to hover deplane one of their tactical flight officers onto the shore. The helicopter hovered about three feet from the beach and the officer alighted. Together with two of the missing man’s friends, he made out into the water to bring the casualty back to shore. The wave height at the time was around 2 to 3 feet and crashing across the reef. 

“In the meantime, the helicopter had landed nearby and the second tactical flight officer attended the beach with the helicopter medical equipment and the AED [automatic external defibrillator]. CPR was carried out on the man until the arrival of the EMT unit a few minutes later.” 

The victim, who had arrived in Cayman on Saturday, was transported to Cayman Islands Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 
at 5.40pm. 

Mr. Perez Iarza

Mr. Perez Iarza