Fatal cruise was to be the ‘last one’


An elderly man who died while taking a Christmas cruise in rough seas had told his family he felt it would be his last one.

Garth O’Donnell, 73, was on his second back-to-back cruise aboard the Fred Olson ship, Balmoral, when he was found unconscious and bleeding at the foot of a stairwell.

He had been aboard the ship for about 10 days on a North Sea cruise and stayed on for the voyage to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

At an inquest into his death yesterday, Wednesday, April 30, Bedford Senior Coroner Tom Osborne heard the ship had set sail from Southampton at 5pm on December 21, last year, in rough seas, with force 7-9 winds predicted.

During the voyage announcements had been made to warn passengers about the weather and advise them to always use the handrails.

At 10am the next day Mr O’Donnell was found unconscious.

He was found with his head on the floor and legs still lying on the stairs by the ship’s hotel manager who was investigating a ‘loud bang’.

The ship’s medical team gave Mr O’Donnell first aid while a paramedic was helicoptered aboard from France.

After two hours, the paramedic ordered Mr O’Donnell to be airlifted to Hôpital de la Cavale Blanche, in Brest, France.

Mr O’Donnell died at the hospital on Christmas Day 2013. Speaking to the court, Mr O’Donnell’s brother-in-law Robin Abbott paid tribute to a man who had been an engineer and keen glider pilot.

He said: “Garth’s main hobby was flying but he had to give that up as his eyesight deteriorated.

“He enjoyed cruising, especially the social side.

“He had implied this would be his last one as he wanted to do other things, such as coach tours.”

He added: “He had wanted to go to Australia but didn’t want to go all that way on his own.”

He added Mr O’Donnell, who had lived in Hillgrounds Road, Kempston, for more than 20 years, was a “conservative character”.

He said: “He wasn’t the sort of guy to take chances.”

Mr Abbott added:“He would have followed the ship’s rules as instructed.”

The coroner recorded the death was the result of an accident. The cause of death was a brain haemorrhage caused by a fracture to the base of the skull.