July 17, 2008 in City

Incidents highlight boating risks

Authorities say mechanical error caused 13-year-old’s death Tuesday
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

“It’s safer to boat during the week,” said Hardy Buchanan, center, of Hauser Lake after a morning of fishing Wednesday. Boat traffic is often heavier on weekends.
(Full-size photo)

Deaths and injuries from motorboat propeller accidents are uncommon across the country, making two recent incidents at area lakes unusual.

U.S. Coast Guard reports show 98 boat propeller injuries and eight deaths nationwide in 2006, the most recent data available.

In all, 3,474 people suffered boating-related injuries and 710 died.

Most accidents happen when boats collide or capsize, and most deaths result from drownings when boats capsize or people fall overboard.

Accidents on water skis, wakeboards or other equipment towed behind a boat are more frequent than other boating mishaps. Of the 510 skiing accidents in 2006, 12 people died, according to the Coast Guard.

Tuesday’s accident on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Carlin Bay killed a 13-year-old Spokane boy, who was struck by a propeller. He was swimming toward the boat to switch life jackets before wakeboarding, authorities said.

It was the first boating death on the lake this year, said Kootenai County sheriff’s Capt. Dan Mattos. Investigators are considering mechanical error as a cause, he said. The boat was reportedly in neutral, meaning the propeller should not have been turning. The boat was operated by the boy’s grandfather.

A.J. Parlan, a program specialist for the Washington state Parks and Recreation Commission’s boating office, said this season has seen fewer boating-related deaths.

Reports show 13 people have died on state waters this year, compared with 17 by the end of July last year. A total of 26 people died in boating accidents in 2007.

Parlan noted that boating accidents on rivers have increased because of the heavy, sustained snowmelt. .

The river accidents include two triple fatalities – one on the Nisqually River that killed two children, ages 5 and 9, along with an adult. The boat’s operator has been charged with homicide.

The other happened on the Columbia River.

No life jackets were in the boats in those cases.

A May 28 motorboat accident on Newman Lake severed a woman’s arm. She had been riding on the bow of the boat, which is illegal in Washington.

When her husband turned sharply, she fell into the water and was struck. Her arm, cut off below the elbow, sank. The husband was arrested and charged with assault. Numerous empty beer containers were found in the boat, and authorities say the husband was intoxicated.

Kootenai County sheriff’s Deputy Tom Alexander said the month’s accident numbers are climbing. In Kootenai County, there have been two wakeboard accidents, two boat fires, a sailboat collision, one boat that sank, a hit-and-run boat collision and Tuesday’s propeller death, he said.

Contact John Stucke at (509) 459-5419 or johnst@spokesman.com.

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