Weather forecaster warning 'ignored'

Organisers of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race had been warned by weather forecasters that they risked a tragedy if they let the fleet sail into a freak storm, an inquest heard yesterday. Six yachtsmen from three vessels died, 55 other people had to be rescued and 12 boats were abandoned or sank in the blue water classic.

Organisers of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race had been warned by weather forecasters that they risked a tragedy if they let the fleet sail into a freak storm, an inquest heard yesterday. Six yachtsmen from three vessels died, 55 other people had to be rescued and 12 boats were abandoned or sank in the blue water classic.

Alun Hill, counsel assisting the inquiry, said a weather bureau employee raised the alarm shortly after the start of the race on 26 December, around 22 hours before the storm hit the fleet in the Tasman Sea. Hill said the forecaster Brett Gauge contacted organisers, emergency crews and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. He quoted Gauge as saying: "I'd be surprised if the race went through without at least one person dying."

Hill told the coroner, John Abernethy, at the opening of the inquiry that the gravity of the situation was apparently not relayed to the 115-boat fleet in the 630-nautical mile race. The coroner is expected to hear from more than 60 witnesses, with the case likely to run into April. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's organisation of the event is likely to be called into question during the inquest.

Also under study will be the role the Australian Bureau of Meteorology played in issuing information on the dangers which lay ahead, he said.

The inquest heard that the cause of death of two yachtmen, skipper Bruce Guy and crewman Phillip Skeggs, might never be properly determined because their vessel, Business Post Naiad, was destroyed before it could be inspected.

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