Family share boat safety message after tragedy

Gabrielle KnowlesAlbany Advertiser

In a move she thought would save her life, Megan Abbott-Cornwall took off the lifejacket she felt was choking her after her boat capsized.

She told her husband Ivan Cornwall she could swim better without the inflated vest but her devastated family believe the decision led to her death.

The 50-year-old’s body was found in the water almost two hours after waves flipped the 4.2m inflatable dinghy in which the couple were fishing near Walpole on Sunday.

Her husband and sister Donna Abbott spoke about the tragedy in the hope other boaties would learn from their loss.

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“We want them to try their lifejackets on and inflate them on land, check how comfortable they are and reassess if they need a different size,” Ms Abbott said.

“You do not want to find this out in a terrifying ocean ordeal.”

The inflatable boat recovered from the water.
Camera IconThe inflatable boat recovered from the water. Credit: 7 News.

Avid fishers, Mrs Abbott-Cornwall and her husband were safety conscious, carrying emergency locator beacons and wearing lifejackets whenever they went out on their boat.

Conditions on Sunday morning had been perfect and the pair had a successful hunt for dhufish off Chatham Island.

As they returned at high tide, they were just metres from shore when the unthinkable happened.

“We did the same thing we’ve done a hundred times before — followed a wave in but another wave came out of nowhere, threw us over the one we were following, the nose dug in and we flipped,” Mr Cornwall said.

He managed to right the boat and set off an EPIRB as his wife trod water nearby but before he could get her into the vessel, another wave hit.

Mr Cornwall managed to get back in the boat but his wife drifted away.

“We could see shore and she said, ‘This bloody jacket, I can’t swim with this on. I’m going to take it off’,” Mr Cornwall said.

“I pleaded, ‘Don’t do that, leave the jacket on’, but she just ignored me.”

He said his wife had remained calm and had not tried to fight against the strong current.

But it was the last he saw of her.

A third wave hit, separating him from the boat.

Mr Cornwall said only the thought of saving his wife got him to shore. “I had set off the EPIRB, so I knew help would come but I had to get out so I could ... say where she was,” he said.

“Unfortunately it’s turned into a tragedy and I’ll never go out fishing there again.”

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