Inquest Rules Dorset Sailor "Bart's" Death An Accident

21 May 2014, 09:25 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Olympic sailing gold medallist Andrew "Bart" Simpson died as a result of an accident, a coroner ruled today.

The world of sailing was left in shock when the 36-year-old, of Sherborne, Dorset, was killed in San Francisco on May 9 last year. 

Simpson died while training for the America's Cup with Artemis Racing in his AC72 catamaran, Dorset Coroner's Court heard. 

The father-of-two was performing a "bear away" manoeuvre - turning downwind - when the catamaran's hull dug into the water, causing it to capsize. 

He was left trapped under the vessel for 10 minutes and suffered blunt trauma to his head, neck and chest, the hearing was told. 

Members of the Artemis Racing team rescued him from the water but he was pronounced dead a short time later, despite the efforts of medics at the scene. 

Richard Middleton, assistant coroner for Dorset, reached a conclusion of accidental death following a 15-minute inquest in Bournemouth today. The coroner said:

"Mr Simpson was trapped underneath the vessel for approximately 10 minutes before being pulled from the water."

"I have heard how he sustained injuries, predominantly to his head and neck. 

"I am sure that it is probable Mr Simpson's cause of death arose as a consequence of a deliberate human act which has unintentionally and unexpectedly taken a turn that has led to his death. 

"Mr Simpson died as a result of an accident.'' 

Mr Middleton said the medical cause of Simpson's death should be recorded as "blunt trauma with drowning," 

"It only leaves me to convey my sympathies and condolences to Mrs Simpson, her family and their friends for their loss.'' 

"From the numerous tributes I have heard, it is clear Mr Simpson will be a tremendous loss to the sailing community." 

The inquest heard Simpson had been training in the catamaran in the bay, between Alcatraz and Treasure Island. 

Mark Monpas, of San Francisco Police Department, in a statement read to the inquest, described the water as "choppy" with waves up to four feet high and wind gusts of up to 25mph. 

Police were called at 1.06pm to reports that a catamaran had capsized, with a person trapped underneath, he said. 

Officers arrived at the scene within two minutes and saw the Artemis Racing chase boat had pulled up close to the catamaran, with members trying to rescue Simpson from the water. 

Simpson was transferred to a nearby yacht harbour, where medics were waiting to continue treatment, arriving at 1.21pm. Despite "several minutes" of efforts to save Simpson, he could not be revived, Mr Monpas said. Adam May, a member of Artemis Racing team, was in the chase boat behind Simpson's catamaran.  

Mr Monpas said America's Cup race boats were designed with "cutting-edge technology". 

"Vessels that are designed and operated as race boats do not have many of the safety features that would normally be associated with recreational vessels and/or commercial vessels,'' he added. 

A medical examiner investigation report was provided to the coroner by the city and county of San Francisco. Simpson's catamaran had been travelling upwind at approximately 30 knots, with a wind speed of 20 knots, at 12.48pm, pathologist Dr Amy Hart said. 

The vessel then performed a bear-away procedure, going downwind. Dr Hart's said: 

"At that time, the front of the vessel went underwater and the porthole broke,"

"The subject was trapped under the hull. The subject was wearing a wetsuit, helmet and flotation device at this time. 

"The subject remained trapped for approximately 10 minutes. 

"The subject was then located floating in the waters of the bay unconscious." 

Efforts were made to carry out CPR and use a defibrillator while Simpson was transferred to a nearby pier, where a team of medics were waiting. 

He was pronounced dead on San Francisco Yacht Club pier at 1.43pm. 

Dr Hart said Simpson's helmet was later examined and was found to be separated, "consistent with being crushed". 

"There was a blunt trauma and, primarily around the head and neck area, a number of abrasions and contusions. 

"Some further abrasions and contusions were found to the torso."

The coroner said the authorities in San Francisco classed the incident as an "accident". 

Simpson wife Leah, who attended the inquest, did not wish to comment after its conclusion.