Coroner investigates fatal lake boat trip

THE forecast was for high wind and rough water when Courtney Simon and two boys set off on Lake Macquarie for Elizabeth Island in an overloaded, overpowered and unregistered runabout.

They had an Esky full of beer and food and a 16-year-old skipper who did not have his boating licence and who said he’d checked the weather on two websites.

But Newcastle Coroners Court heard yesterday that the forecast at the Nobbys Beach weather station was for southerly gusts of up to 35 knots, or 60km/h, that whipped up large waves on Lake Macquarie on the afternoon of June 11 last year.

Deputy State Coroner Mark Buscombe will decide on Friday if the brief of evidence prepared into the drowning death of Ms Simon, 14, should be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Michael Kozlowski, solicitor for Ms Simon’s family, said the case should be referred so a charge of manslaughter by criminal negligence against the 16-year-old owner and skipper of the boat could be considered.

The 16-year-old cannot be identified.

The inquest heard from his stepfather who said he warned the teens about going onto the lake that day.

He said he did not approve of them taking the beer, but he drove them to Toronto where they launched the boat, the court heard.

The stepfather said he had heard on the radio that a storm was going to hit, but he said his stepson had checked the weather on a computer and his mobile phone and he was determined to go out.

Ms Simon did not want to go, the stepfather said. He said she was wearing a life jacket when he left them.

Senior Constable Adam Harvey, who interviewed the two survivors, said the runabout began taking on water early on in the journey due to the waves and the boat sitting low in the water.

They pulled close to the shore at one stage and bailed the water out before pressing on to Elizabeth Island, the court heard.

Some time after 3pm the boat capsized.

The boys told police Ms Simon was no longer wearing her life jacket and that they tried to get onto the capsized vessel, but couldn’t.

After struggling in the water for hours and trying to swim to shore, the 16-year-old told police that Ms Simon appeared to suffer a seizure and died. He said he slapped her and tried to rescue her, but couldn’t.

He swam to shore near Marks Point and raised the alarm about 7.30pm while his friend made it to shore near Belmont about 10 minutes earlier.

Ms Simon’s body was found 10 days later.

Senior Constable Harvey said that while the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast at Cooranbong that day was for winds of only 11km/h, the forecast at Nobbys was for winds of up to 60km/h.

He said an experienced water user would have known that Cooranbong was protected from southerly winds, while Nobbys and the lake were not.

Police later retrieved the boat and conducted an experiment where they filled it with roughly the same weight that was in it at the time it capsized.

They found that the boat took on water in only 10 centimetres of chop.

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