Life jacket 'could have saved tragic mum Edelle McGlade from drowning'
A mother of three who drowned minutes after falling into water at Portglenone Marina last year may have survived if she had been wearing a life jacket, a court has heard.
Northern Ireland Coroner Paddy McGurgan said he wanted to highlight the tragic accident that claimed the life of Edelle McGlade (48) from Portstewart to call for the compulsory wearing of life jackets.
Mr McGurgan said he intends to write to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities asking that life jackets are worn by everyone on a boat in the same way as seat belts are worn in motor vehicles.
Former Northern Ireland pathologist Professor Jack Crane told an inquest into Ms McGlade's death sitting in Coleraine that on June 28, 2018 a sample from Ms McGlade showed she had 211mg of alcohol in 100mls of blood - almost three times the legal limit for driving.
Professor Crane said this, combined with the unsteadiness of the boat, could have caused her to lose her balance when attempting to get off the boat.
He said that would have led to hypothermia and loss of consciousness once she entered the water and increased the rate at which she drowned.
The boat was owned by Damien O'Kane, who told the court he met Ms McGlade on a blind date four days previously and had spent "most of those four days together" and had gotten "very close".
He said early in the day, he collected Ms McGlade and they attended to some errands before going to the marina at Portglenone where his boat was moored.
The couple spent some time on the boat out of the marina when Ms McGlade went swimming, before returning to meet up with Mr O'Kane's friend Seamus Duffin and his family for a barbecue and drinks.
Mr O'Kane told the court they decided to leave the boat shortly after midnight and go to his house a mile away as the temperature had fallen. By this time the marina was in darkness as the lights automatically switch off after 11.30pm.
Mr O'Kane said that while Ms McGlade had never been on a boat before meeting him, she had been on and off his vessel over the four days since they met.
He said when she was leaving the boat that night, she stepped one foot on to a pontoon and hesitated instead of stepping off with her other foot, causing the boat to move away slightly from its mooring.
This caused her to lose her balance and despite him holding on to her hand she twisted around and fell into the water.
He immediately called for Mr Duffin who was on his boat nearby and who arrived within moments.
The pair shone the lights from their phones onto the water where they saw Ms McGlade below the surface but despite trying to reach her with a boat hook, they couldn't.
Mr O'Kane said he never wore a life jacket unless he was out of the marina and the waters were rough. But he told Mr McGurgan having a life jacket "would have changed the outcome" for Ms McGlade.
The court heard that the local Community Search and Rescue team arrived at the scene a short time after the alarm was raised. Volunteers were able to locate Ms McGlade's body and bring her ashore around 50 minutes after she entered the water.
A detective constable told the inquest there had been nothing to suggest Ms McGlade's death was anything "other than a tragic accident".
Ms McGlade's family asked the detective if Mr O'Kane had been breathalysed on the night she died and was told he had.
The detective said Mr O'Kane gave a reading of 40mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood which was slightly about the legal limit for driving but there was no restrictions by law governing pleasure boats.
Aidan McGlade, Ms McGlade's brother, paid tribute to his sister in court, describing her as very kind, bright and intelligent.
He said: "Edelle didn't have it easy, she had epilepsy from a young age and had a number of operations for epilepsy including two brain operations.
"She had a tough life compared to most people but she came through all of it.
"She had three children that she raised as a single mother and had everything to live for.
"She was very bright, intelligent young lady. Edelle was very kind. The amount of people who commented on her kindness through the years is pretty amazing.
"She would have given anything to anyone and we are very proud of the legacy she left to me, her siblings and to everyone else in the family."
Mr McGurgan said this was clear from the evidence he had heard in court that Ms McGlade was a "warm, loving person who made friends easily".
He said the lack of a life jacket "deprived Edelle of the best possible opportunity to change the outcome".
He said he couldn't understand why wearing life jackets while on a boat is not compulsory in Northern Ireland, as it is in the Irish Republic.
He said he would write to the Permanent Secretary about making this happen and would also write to the chief executive of Causeway Coast and Glens Council about the lack of light on the marina at Portglenone after 11.30pm because of the health and safety issues this presents.
He also recognised the issue of drinking alcohol was different for boats but suggested a "common sense approach" should be adopted by people in charge of them.