Jun 27, 2011, 4:17 PM
Post #3 of 24
REFLECTING ON THIS TRAGEDY WITH DISBELIEF
Re: [The Publisher] EIGHT BELLS: Olivia Constants
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By Hal Whitacre, Commodore, Severn Sailing Association
The last several days have been notably some of the most challenging of my life. As the Commodore of Severn Sailing Association, I am faced with great responsibilities relating to the loss of a fellow sailor. Even more difficult for me, as a father of three children, are the haunting emotions and sympathy I feel for the grieving family of Olivia Constants, a young sailor on our junior race team who lost her life in a sailing accident last Thursday.
I can only reflect on this tragedy with disbelief. Surely we all often think of the dangers of the sea as we venture from the dock. Seldom, though, do we hear of a life-threatening event occurring in our local sailing community. In general, accidents of this magnitude are rare and this one involved experienced sailors and competent instructors. However, the rarity of such an accident is no comfort to me or any other parent.
My understanding thus far is that the 420 capsized to windward while sailing downwind, and then rolled into a “turtled” position (mast pointing downward). The coach immediately approached the boat, radioed for additional assistance, and worked diligently to dislodge Olivia, who at that moment appeared to be unconscious. Concurrently, another instructor phoned 911. Once she was retrieved from the water, coaches immediately performed CPR and proceeded to the Naval Academy’s seawall,which was the nearest point of land,to meet the emergency response team. Unfortunately, Olivia could not be resuscitated.
At this point the exact cause of Olivia’s drowning is unknown and under investigation by Maryland DNR.
Conditions at the time were excellent for training, and both sailors have sailed, and capsized, in much rougher conditions. Both Olivia, her skipper, and all coaches were wearing their PFDs, in accordance with our Junior Program Rules.
The Severn Sailing Association’s junior sailing program has a history of over 50 years of producing world-class sailors, from local champions to Olympic sailors; with thousands of students having safely completed the program. The current junior program, consistent with our past programs, is committed to making sailing accessible to the public and to help those wanting to pursue higher levels in the sport. Our sailing program director and his coaches have a passion to teach, and hold safety as a top priority.
As a result of this incident we are reviewing and critiquing our safety procedures and equipment. As with any incident such as this, a greater light is shown on safety and with this focus good safety measures can be made even better. As this incident has had far reaching impact within the greater junior sailing community, we have reached out to other junior programs to both tell them our current safety thinking and to glean any additional information they may have to contribute.
We intend to have an independent, expert, organization perform a safety review of our junior program equipment and procedures and will share our findings with the greater sailing community.
I have been in contact with the Constants family and they are very appreciative of the outpouring of support and love expressed for Olivia. I am grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. There has been a clear message encouraging the club to continue with the current program and its positive contributions to youth instruction and the promotion of sailing. We appreciate your support of our program, and particularly to our staff.
Olivia will be greatly missed by everyone. Our thoughts and prayers remain with her family.