Highlands & Islands

Aquila dredger deaths fatal accident told of survivor

Anglian Sovereign coastguard boat at the site of the sinking of Aquila
Image caption Anglian Sovereign coastguard boat at the scene of the sinking

The sole survivor of the capsizing of a scallop dredger in July 2009 managed to use planks to keep himself afloat, a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) has heard.

Timmy Rowley, 32, was picked up by a passing yacht, but skipper Tony Hayton, 45, died along with Peter Hilton and Thomas Sanderson, both aged 52.

The Cumbrian crew's boat, the Aquila, overturned off Ardnamurchan Point, on the west coast of Scotland.

An Ayrshire-based fishermen has told the FAI how he searched for the crew.

Eric McIlwraith, 48, of Girvan, regularly worked alongside the Aquila and had known Mr Hayton for about 20 years.

Mr Hayton and his crew, who were all from Maryport in Cumbria, were off Ardnamurchan while Mr McIlwraith was dredging off the island of Mull.

The Aquila overturned after a trawling cable became snagged on the seabed.

Mr McIlwraith headed for the scene after he failed to reach the Aquila's crew on his mobile phone.

He told the FAI at Fort William Sheriff Court: "When I got to the scene the vessel was upside down floating.

"There were two lifeboats and another fishing vessel on scene.

"I got involved in the search. We were out for about an hour and a half. The lifeboat picked up someone, but we never found anything."

Mr McIlwraith said the seabed off Ardnamurchan Point was known for snagging lines and it could be a regular occurrence.

He added: "But the fishing is good, that's why we go there.

"But it can be risky. It is part and parcel of the job. It is dangerous."

Last year, a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) suggested rescuers sent to the scene were delayed by 20 minutes.

The report found communication errors delayed a Maritime and Coastguard Agency helicopter.

MAIB investigators said it was "unlikely" this would have affected the outcome of the accident but the deaths had led to a review of coastguard procedures.

The inquiry, which is expected to last five days continues.

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