Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The danger of slipways

We have been dropping boats into the water from trailers for a lifetime. We have two little boats right now that are forever being taken in and out of the sea. For years, I had a Hobie Cat that I trailered all over the east coast of the US. Typically, the car never came near the water. But in some places, where the slipway was gently sloping and more water was needed, the rear wheels sometimes came very close to or even entered the water. We have never really thought about the risk to the car and driver, until now. 

About a year ago, a car fell off a slipway in Northern Ireland and five people lost their lives. They had driven down the ramp to see the view over Loch Swilly one evening. Somehow the car ended up in the water, floated into deeper water, then sank. The man was able to break the window and hand a baby out to someone who swam out to help. The man, his mother-in-law, her daughter and his two young sons drowned. The man's wife was flying back from England and learned of the tragedy before the plane took off. She lost her mother, sister, partner and two children in the tragic incident. No one could figure out how this could happen. An inquiry was initiated to investigate the cause. This week, it was determined to be misadventure. 

Piece by piece, the story came together. The slipway was covered in dangerous algae. The car lost traction, and despite being an SUV, could not stop the slide. Once in the water, the doors and windows would not open. The victims were trapped. The father managed to break a window and handed the baby out to a passerby who swam out to the car. The hatch did open but too late. 

The Buncrana tragedy points out how dangerous algae on slipways can be. The man who rescued the child and his girlfriend and they both had great difficulty walking up the slipway with the baby it was that slippery. 

With all the electrical and electronic equipment in today's vehicles, salt water intrusion quickly fries the systems. The doorlocks and windows can freeze. Contemporary anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are computer-controlled, electrohydromechanical hydraulic systems. They could also fail if exposed to salt water. Seat belts have electronic tensioning devices in them. It could be difficult to open them once tensioned. 

Be extremely careful out there with today's computerized vehicles.Keep a hammer that can break windows handy in the car and have a way to cut seat belts. 

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