A Fatal Accident Inquiry has found that the deaths of four men who died on Loch Awe on 20 March 2009 was due to “cold water immersion”.

The inquiry into the deaths of Craig Currie, William Carty, Stephen Carty and Thomas Douglas took place at Oban Sheriff Court  between 1 June 2010 and 11 January 2011. 

Following consideration of the evidence and submissions to the Inquiry Sheriff Small made the following findings:

 The deaths might have been avoided if.

  • The deceased had been wearing fully functional and properly secured and fitted lifejackets.
  •  The deceased had taken responsibility for their own safety and had taken into account the prevailing weather conditions, the lack of visibility and potential hazards on Loch Awe before embarking in their boat onto the loch.
  •  The deceased had returned to the Tight Line public house to obtain a lift back to their campsite.
  •  The deceased, as well as phoning their friend Edward Colquhoun from their boat, had phoned emergency services.
  •  The deceased had not consumed alcohol prior to taking the collective decision to take their boat onto the loch.

The other facts which Sheriff Small considers to be relevant to the circumstances of the deaths are:

  •  There was no register of local assistance (ROLA) available to be called upon by the rescue services at the time of the accident. 
  •  That there were communication difficulties for the emergency services in attendance.  There is now a digital based system of communications in operation (Firelink System) which enables communications within the fire services, the police, and ambulance and resilient teams.  This system does not extend to Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) personnel or to the mountain rescue services. 
  •  Individual crew members of Strathclyde Fire Service were not at the time of the accident personally equipped with lifejackets.
  •  Those members of Strathclyde Fire Service who were the first to arrive at the campsite of the deceased did not source and communicate to their boat crew a suitable launch site.
  •  The Strathclyde Fire and Rescue boat was not equipped with physical markers to assist in identifying accurately those areas of the loch where debris and the bodies of Craig Currie and William Carty had been retrieved.

Further recommendations

  •  That a register of local assistance which excludes the ambulance service be made up by Strathclyde Police and circulated to the emergency services and that the register includes the names of persons and equipment available to be called upon in an emergency rescue situation.
  •  That in the event of an emergency involving Strathclyde Police and the MCA, Strathclyde Police should provide MCA personnel with a police radio for communication purposes.
  •  That all Strathclyde Fire Service vehicles should be equipped with a lifejacket for each individual crew member.
  • That Strathclyde Fire and Rescue boats carry markers to assist in identifying areas of water from which debris or bodies of deceased are located.
  • That in a water based incident there be a protocol in place whereby there is communication between the boat crew and those crews in attendance at the location of the incident.

In the absence of the boat used by the deceased being recovered or any direct evidence as to what caused it to sink the Inquiry was unable to make any specific findings about that matter. 

In finding that the deceased deaths might have been avoided had they not consumed alcohol before going onto the Loch the Inquiry took into account the evidence of drink consumed by the men before they left for the Tight Line public house and also the evidence of how much drink was consumed there.  In addition, the opinion evidence provided by Professor Michael Tipton suggested that the deceased’s assessment of risk may have been impaired by their consumption of alcohol.

The Inquiry found no evidence to suggest any criticism of the emergency services or the systems of work employed by them at this very tragic accident.  Their individual responses and the manner in which they carried out their duties in extremely difficult conditions were commendable.

Read the full Determination