Friends recover the body of fishing boat skipper Geoff Ingram
By Exeter Express and Echo | Thursday, September 27, 2012, 06:46
FRIENDS of popular Exmouth skipper Geoff Ingram have spoken of their extraordinary effort to recovery his body.
And they have criticised the authorities for allowing the body to remain at sea for so long following the sinking of the Sarah Jayne.
The recovery was coordinated by Mr Ingram's good friend Dave Kerley, who runs the Fish Shed at Darts Farm, last week.
It involved three divers who also knew the Exmouth skipper and two fishing boats, the Becci of Ladram, skippered by Tony Wreford, and the Rosanne, skippered by Mike Baker, with six further people on board.
The nine-strong team recovered the 51-year-old skipper's body from the wreck of his boat at around 1.20pm on Thursday, September 20.
The friends were frustrated at the "lack of action" by the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch, which launched an investigation following the sinking of the vessel nine days before his body was recovered.
As previously reported in the Echo, Mr Ingram was a popular father of two who was one of the most experienced and well respected fishermen in the town.
He went missing when his 15m trawler capsized off Berry Head on Tuesday, September 11. Two other crew members, also from Exmouth, one named locally as Matt Bull, the other as Spud, were rescued.
Mr Kerley, 46, said: "If we hadn't have gone out there Geoff would still be there, or not at all. For the family to have to wait this long and for no one to even check to see if he was in there is just horrendous, especially with all the resources there are in the Westcountry.
"He should have been retrieved straightaway. It shouldn't have been for his friends to have to go out."
Describing the rescue, he said: "We knew time wasn't on our side. And if a body isn't recovered there can't be a death certificate for seven years, which is awful for the family.
"We knew from what the other crew members said that Geoff had gone back into the cabin to raise the alarm when the boat flipped over very quickly, so we knew there was a good chance he could still be in there. But with every day and every tide that chance diminishes.
"We can't understand why divers weren't sent down straight away. It was so frustrating, the whole community was stuck in limbo.
"We couldn't let him stay down there. Everyone who went out was a really good friend of Geoff who just wanted to do something to get him back, for the sake of his wife and children."
Mr Kerley said the branch had put up an exclusion zone around the wreck site and as soon as they found out when it was due to be lifted they planned the recovery.
The team left Exmouth at 8.30am, arriving at the site a couple of hours later with the divers heading 160ft down to the wreck, using specialist equipment because of the depth, at 1pm. They were back on the surface with the body 20 minutes later.
"Some of Brixham's most experienced fishermen that were friends with Geoff had given us the times of slack water which has the least underwater current for the divers to contend with," Mr Kerley said.
"We thought there was a 50/50 chance of finding Geoff, because the doors were open when the boat sunk and there have been a big range of tides since.
"When the tide had almost slacked to nothing, all three divers went down having talked through every possible scenario in case things went wrong.
"When one went in the boat, another waited outside watching him with the other hanging onto the buoy in case of an emergency.
"One shone a torch in the wheel room, but couldn't see anything so decided to go through the hatch into the galley. He had to take off two emergency air bottles to fit through, and that's where he found Geoff.
"When they came back we felt such elation, but also sadness at the tragedy. We took Geoff ashore to Brixham coastguard and the police arrived with a hearse and took him away.
"It was the best result possible. The whole atmosphere changed round the dock area that day. Geoff was a lovely guy with a lovely family, it's come as such as shock.
"All the guys who helped did so completely selflessly. They just wanted to do something for Geoff, who would have done exactly the same for us."
George Bartlett, 29, who works as an assistant at Darts Farm and a former diving instructor, pulled Mr Ingram's body from the wreck.
"We were just doing the right thing," he said.
"Geoff worked for the lifeboat for 18 years, he's the guy who would have come out and saved us. The visibility wasn't good, only about a metre. There was lots of banging because of all the stuff on the wreck, everything was jumbled inside and there was lots of line and rope so I had to clear my way through.
"But under the water everything is quite slow and relaxed and we had a job to do, so we did it as if it was on the surface. Between us we have a lot of experience. It was very much a team effort. We decided only one person should go in, so the idea was I'd go in and locate him and pass him out."
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has so far refused to comment on its investigation.
A police spokesperson confirmed that police divers were called in by the branch to assist with their investigation, and went to the wreck site but were unable to proceed due to specialist equipment that was needed to dive to the depth of the sunken vessel.
Fred Caygill, spokesperson for the Maritime Coastguard Agency, said: "Brixham coastguard received a call from a friend of Geoff's who was aboard a vessel reporting that divers had been down to the wreck of the Sarah Jayne and recovered Geoff's body.
"A request was made for the coastguard to organise things shore side, which involved asking the police to receive the body and liaise with the coroner."
Mr Ingram's funeral takes place at Holy Trinity Church, Exmouth, on Monday October 1, at 2.30pm. All are welcome.