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British visitor found in raft near burnt-out catamaran

British visitor found in raft near burnt-out catamaran


Early responders to the fire on board the yacht off Buccament on Wednesday believe the flames that claimed the life of British national John Garner may have been caused by an exploding propane gas bottle.{{more}}

Several Barrouallie fishermen and a dive team from the Buccament-based Indigo Dive St Vincent, went to the assistance of the burning yacht when they saw the flames. They met the catamaran, believed to be the “ASANTE” almost completely burnt, and the 53 year old Garner already in his life raft, having had the presence of mind to take his “grab bag” which included his ID information.

Kay Wilson, Indigo Managing Director, who was among the first to reach the stricken yacht, recounted the experience for SEARCHLIGHT.

“On the 26th March at approxmately 11.45 a.m. my team and I were on a dive tour with six guests, of which two were children. I own and operate Indigo Dive, based at Buccament Bay Resort.

“The boat driver, Emron Matthews of Rose Bank, noticed a plume of smoke out to sea. We checked to see how much gas we had and then made haste to the vessel.

“I took the wheel of my boat, and at approx 10 knots we took approx 15 – 20 minutes to get close to the catamaran that was now almost burnt down to the water mark. Other yachts changed course to head to the stricken vessel, but we reached it first.

“About quarter of a mile away we saw a flashing light approx 150ft down wind from the burning catamaran, we approached with caution and trained rescue diver / scuba instructor Keon Murray of Old Montrose entered the water and swam to the victim.

“Keon signaled that the male victim was not conscious, and given the lack of blood in the water he was most likely deceased. He had sustained very serious injuries to his left leg. He had also sustained injuries to his face. I asked Keon to stay with the victim as another boat was approaching, and they would be able to remove the victim from the water more easily as we had young children onboard and did not want them to witness the injuries that the victim had sustained.

“I noticed what appeared to be signal flare approximately 300 yards further down wind, so went to investigate. It turned out to be a cushion from the boat that was on fire, however we found a waterproof bag floating nearby which on investigation turned out to be the captains ‘grab bag’. Inside we found a passport, and other documents. From this we were able to get the name of the victim, the name of the vessel and other important details. We were able to surmise that the victim was alone on the boat.

“The Coast Guard arrived on the scene shortly afterward and as we were running low on fuel we handed over the search and information that we had with regards to the status of the victim to them.

“We can surmise that the victim was able to make it from the boat following an explosion on board. Unfortunately his life raft did not deploy properly, and it became damaged from the heat from the fire which was extremely intense.

 “We found out subsequently that the victim’s wife flew back home yesterday, and the victim had enjoyed time in Bequia prior to the accident. He was on his way to overnight in Cumberland, and was then due to make his way to Antigua.

 “Keon showed great fortitude, and as we were able to recover the victims personal information we were able to allow the authorities to contact his next of kin so that they know what happened to their loved one.

 “I have provided a statement to the Maritime Agency as per protocol,” Wilson said.

 The police, in a statement on Wednesday, had expressed an interest in the whereabouts of Garner’s female companion.

“Preliminary investigations show that Garner arrived in the state on Sunday, January 19, 2014 via plane along with female companion, Heidi Hukkelaas, and was granted an extension to remain in the state no longer than April 19, 2014. Hukkelaas’ whereabout is unknown, but checks revealed that she did not leave the state at any of the airports or seaports,” the statement said.

Yesterday, while speaking to local media, Commissioner of Police Michael Charles said that foul play is suspected in the incident.

Charles said that he was unable up to press time, to confirm if the woman had left the country.

One yachting industry writer with whom Searchlight spoke shared the view that Garner dropped his wife off on a neighbouring island to fly back home while he extended his stay.  He was reported to be popular among the local yachties and had dinner with friends on the Grenadine island of Bequia on Tuesday.

Garner’s death is reported to have created a flurry of queries from among the close knit yachting community, with many taking time out to express sadness at what they regard as an unfortunate accident.

The country received negative publicity last October when the yacht “Rainbow” was boarded by a machete-wielding assailant off Frigate Rock near Union Island, and the couple on board, attacked. The wife received a chop in her face that went from ear to lip, and photos of her mutilated face were widely circulated on the internet.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the Caribbean’s leading yachting destinations, with the Tobago Cays Marine Park a first choice for yachtsmen visiting the region.