British Olympic champion Andrew Simpson died from “blunt trauma with drowning” after the Swedish America’s Cup craft he was sailing capsized and broke apart in San Francisco Bay, according to a medical-examiner’s report released on Tuesday.
Simpson, 36, a two-time Olympic medallist and father of two young boys, suffered multiple blows to his head and body in the May 9 accident involving the 72-foot Artemis Racing catamaran, the San Francisco medical-examiner’s report said.
In the moments before it capsized, the yacht was turning downwind in a so-called bear-away manoeuvre while travelling at about 30 knots, or 34 miles per hour, with wind of about 20 knots, or 23 miles per hour, the report says.
The front of the vessel then dipped beneath the surface, the port hull broke and inverted on top of the wing, according to the report. The precise sequence of events was not clear from the report, nor did it explain why Simpson was unable to find his way out.
A knowledgeable source, who requested anonymity, said that the craft had turned to head home because the wind had whipped up to at or near a team-imposed limit. The medical-examiner’s report mentions nothing about the wind limit, and representatives of Artemis did not return calls and emails.
Chuck Hawley, who served on a panel that investigated the incident for the America’s Cup, took issue with the report’s narrative that the port hull broke first. He believes the main crossbeam broke before the boat “folded up in a very peculiar way” and trapped Simpson between layers of “very tough material.”
“I don’t know we’re any closer to knowing what happened,” Hawley, who has investigated six fatal sailing accidents, told Reuters. But piecing together what happened presents special challenges because the yacht was the first of a new generation of boats pushing the limits of speed and design.
Simpson was wearing a helmet, wetsuit, flotation device and shoes when he was trapped for approximately 10 minutes beneath the high-tech yacht, the medical-examiner’s report said.
Four chase boats helped the other 10 crew members off the crippled sailboat, the report said.
“But the subject remained trapped for approximately 10 minutes,” it said. “The subject was then located, floating in the waters of the bay, unconscious.”
A toxicology report found that the only drug in Simpson’s system at the time of his death was caffeine.
The Artemis yacht, which some have said was problematic from the start, was to have been retired on the day it capsized.
The accident at one point threatened to scuttle the famed sailing regatta, but racing continued after a number of rule changes were made, including substantial reductions to the wind limits. Oracle Team USA successfully defended the trophy with a dramatic come-from-behind win over Emirates Team New Zealand.
America’s Cup spokesman Peter Rusch called the report “comprehensive” and said, “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Andrew Simpson’s family and friends.”
Artemis skipper Iain Percy and Simpson had been close friends since they were 10 years old. They went through Britain’s youth sailing program together and then on to the Olympics, where they won gold in 2008.
The two also grew up sailing with Sir Ben Ainslie, who helped Oracle win the Cup after he was installed as U.S. team’s tactician during the finals. Ainslie, Percy and Simpson’s wife, Leah, have set up a foundation in Simpson’s name to support youth sailing.