Skipper tells how brave rescue attempt failed to save life of man overboard

A skipper has recounted desperate attempts to save his friend after he fell into the treacherous North Sea.

Andrew White was in charge of the Copious when crew member, Edison Lacaste, went overboard in the early hours of 18th February 2021.

The 40-year-old skipper gave a detailed account of the tragedy at today’s (Monday) fatal accident inquiry (FAI) at Lerwick Sheriff Court.

It happened at around 3am when Mr Lacaste was attempting to carry out repairs.

Mr White said he passed him a shackle and then turned his back to pull on a wire to create some slack for Mr Lacaste to complete the task.

When he turned back, the 45-year-old Filipino was falling backwards with his hands in the air.

Like all crew on board the vessel, Mr Lacaste, who had been working on the Copius for around six years, was wearing a personal floatation device (PFD).

It inflated as he hit the water, the inquiry heard.

Mr White said he lowered a mooring rope with a loop around its end, which Mr Lacaste was able to grab.

But while Mr White had hoped the deckhand would have put the loop around his head so he could be pulled back on board, he instead tried to pull himself up.

“I think he was trying to climb the rope,” he said.

“He was very much panicking.”

Although he was still holding on, Mr White said his friend began to lose his strength rapidly.

He said it happened “shockingly” fast and the water was very cold.

“His energy level had gone downhill very quickly,” he said.

Bravely, Mr White climbed down a ladder on the hull of the boat to assist.

“It was pretty obvious he was in a lot of shock and panic,” he said.

“I felt that by getting a bit closer to him I could maybe bring his focus back to the rescue.

“So I went down the ladder and pulled him over and got his hand on to it but he did not have the strength to hold on.”

The  court heard Mr Lacaste was then washed away by a wave.

Mr White said he never managed to get the rope around him.

Although is PFD had deployed, Mr White said Mr Lacaste was low in the water.

“When he drifted away from the boat everything raised up over him,” he said.

The crew tried various attempts to get Mr Lacaste back on board.

Mr White said their main approach was using a grappling hook.

Although they succeeded in getting him alongside the boat, they found his PFD was being pulled off him.

“We came to the conclusion that if we kept doing this we would take his PFD off,” Mr White said.

“And if that happened we would never see him again.”

By now, Mr Lacaste was motionless in the water and showing no signs of life.

“We knew the helicopter was coming so we had to make a decision – do we continue trying to recover the body and risk losing him completely by pulling his PFD off or do we make the decision to stand by as best we could and wait for the helicopter?

“I think we did the right thing.”

The helicopter arrived just before 4am and winched Mr Lacaste’s body out of the sea.

Mr White and his remaining crew returned to Lerwick where they learned their friend had died.

He described Mr Lacaste as a good worker.

“He was a nice guy and he was just a very reliable crewmate,” he said.

Mr White said he took crew safety very seriously and complied with all the guidance.

Following the accident, the crew has taken part in more realistic man-overboard training exercises with the Lerwick RNLI.

He has also invested in additional safety equipment and all crew now wear PFD with greater buoyancy.

The FAI resumes tomorrow.


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