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Lessons can be learnt from family tragedy

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: February 05, 2014

TRAGEDY: Nick Milligan, with his wife Victoria and children, from left, Emily, Olivia, Kit and Amber.

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A SPEEDBOAT tragedy which killed a television executive and his daughter happened after he grabbed the throttle causing the boat to go out of control at full power, a report has said.

Nick Milligan, 51, managing director of a division of Sky, and his eight-year-old daughter Emily were killed at Padstow on May 5 last year.

All six family members were thrown into the water, where Mr Milligan's wife Victoria and son Kit were severely injured by the boat. Daughters Amber and Olivia received minor injuries.

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published on Thursday said Mr Milligan had been at the controls wearing a kill cord – a safety device designed to cut power in an emergency – around his leg.

Later, Mrs Milligan took over the controls of the 300 horsepower Milly but was not attached to the kill cord.

When she turned the boat to starboard, Mr Milligan, sitting next to her, reached across and took control to execute a tighter, higher-powered turn.

As he did so the family from London were thrown into the water, the engine did not cut out and the boat circled at high speed, hitting them.

The MAIB report stated: "The turn to starboard which led to the ejection was initiated by Mrs Milligan but Mr Milligan almost immediately reached across his wife and took control of the helm with his right hand and grasped the throttle with his left.

"It is likely that he did this because he thought that a tighter turn to starboard was required to keep Milly clear of the beach on the Padstow side of the [Camel] estuary."

A post-mortem examination showed Mr Milligan had 56 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood at the time of his death. The legal limit for driving is 80 milligrams.

The report said: "It cannot be established whether the wine he had consumed about one and a half hours earlier adversely affected his judgment or fine motor skills when he reached across and took the controls, but his alcohol levels were well below the drink-drive limit for UK roads."

Trials of the boat showed it to have some "undesirable handling characteristics in certain circumstances", with design changes recommended to the manufacturer.

Rescuers who put themselves at risk to save the family were praised by investigators.

Canoeists, including a trained paramedic, pulled two of the children from the water while keeping Mrs Milligan and another child alongside their craft and conscious.

"The action of the single canoeist in attempting to intercept the circling boat, in order to prevent further injuries, to the point where contact was made between the two craft, was selfless and worthy of note.

"Also praiseworthy were the actions of the doctor, a passenger on Thunder, who entered the water to provide first aid."

Investigators also praised the "bravery and seamanship" of local watersports instructor Charlie Toogood who leapt into the speedboat and brought it under control.

MAIB chief inspector Steve Clinch said: "I hope that the lessons resulting from the MAIB's investigation will be learnt to prevent loss of life in the future."

In a statement, the Milligan family, who had a holiday home nearby, said: "We sincerely hope that awareness of this accident will mean that another family does not have to go through anything similar."

An inquest into the deaths of Mr Milligan and his daughter has yet to be held.

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