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Caribbean, St. Vincent: British Sailor found dead in water near burning yacht - updated

By Sue Richards — last modified Apr 03, 2014 07:46 PM
Contributors: BBC / Daily Mail / The Guardian / Sky News / Yachting Monthly
On 26 March, 53 year old John Edward Garner was found injured, floating in the water just yards from his burning yacht, 15 nautical miles west of Buccament, SW St. Vincent.

Published: 2014-04-02 23:00:00
Topics: Safety and Medical
Countries: St Vincent & the Grenadines , United Kingdom , Norway

Caribbean, St. Vincent: British Sailor found dead in water near burning yacht - updated

© Daily Mail, from Google Maps

For an update on this incident, following the post mortem, see Cruising Compass, April 3, 2014.

Original News Report - March 28, 2014

News reports vary, however what is clear is the report from the first on the scene, diving instructor Kay Wilson.

She had spotted a plume of black smoke and had steered her power boat, containing visitors on a diving trip, to the scene to try to help.

She told Sky News: "When we reached about a quarter of a mile off we saw a flashing light, which you would normally associate with a life jacket. So we approached cautiously and we found somebody in the water with the life jacket around their neck approximately 150-200ft away from the yacht at the time. It was a male."

Wilson said that by then the flames had engulfed the vessel. "It was almost raised to the water line, and the heat and the smoke which were coming were just incredible. Had anybody else been on the yacht at the time, there was no way to know at all."

She told Sky News that what she saw suggested that there had been an accident. "The fact that the captain of the vessel was in the water, he had launched his safety raft and the fact that we were able to find documents floating away from the vessel when we searched further, I would suggest that there had been an accident on board, the fire had overtaken the vessel and the captain had decided to leave."

The skipper's passport and personal documents were floating nearby in a waterproof 'grab bag'. Only his personal details were found in the bag, indicating that he was alone on board.

The Coastguard arrived soon after, taking Mr Garner to Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, Kingstown, where he was pronounced dead. He had suffered injuries to both his head and legs and police are awaiting the results of the post-mortem examination to help determine exactly how he died.

Whilst local police are treating Mr Garner's death as suspicious, Mr Garner's daughter Elisabeth, 37, told the MailOnline, "This is a shock for everybody. We have not been told that this is being treated as suspicious. As far as we have been told, it is being treated as a tragic accident."

She said her stepmother had left St Vincent two days before Garner to return to Norway to look after her young children. Ms Wilson said she also believed it could have been simply an accident.

She said: 'It was lunchtime (12:30 local time), I think he may have gone to the galley to make himself something to eat and the lacerations on his face and legs lead me to believe he was bending over a gas canister. If someone had killed him onboard, he wouldn't have been able to try and deploy his life raft."

Mr Garner kept his 49ft yacht "Asante" in the Caribbean, and used to visit regularly to enjoy sailing around the islands. According to the detective leading the investigation, Mr Garner had flown into the island in January along with his Norwegian wife, Heidi Hukkelaas. She had left to go back to Norway and he had been getting his boat seaworthy. It had been in the marina for repairs only a few weeks before the fire.

A Yachting Monthly reader in St Vincent told YM: ‘I had dinner with John and his wife Heidi about three weeks ago when I passed through Bequia. Heidi planned to return to Norway on 25th and friends in Bequia tell me she did in fact leave. John was then intending to sail single handed to Antigua and this looks as if this is what he did. Sailing north out of Bequia is a glorious beam reach for about 15 miles then as yacht gets behind St Vincent you lose the wind. This is where John would have started his engine.'

The St Vincent police commissioner, Michael Charles, said Garner's death was being treated as suspicious and investigators were looking at all lines of inquiry.

"We suspect foul play and will investigate the matter fully. Miss Hukkelaas is a person of interest and as with every murder investigation we have to look at everyone and everything and will leave no stones unturned," Charles said.

Yachting Monthly also report that Mr Garner, who had dual nationality, was sailing the £180,000 Gibraltar-registered boat which had been up for sale for £1 just a few months ago. Industry sources are saying the purchase was at the centre of a tax avoidance scheme.

BBC News Report

The Guardian Report

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