'Couldn't swim': Dad's 'avoidable' jet-ski death in front of family

·News Reporter
·4-min read

The death of a Tasmanian man who died in a jet-ski crash was “completely avoidable”, a coronial inquest has found.

Michael Beames, 35, travelled with his family from Launceston to Tomahawk in Tasmania’s northeast to spend the day at Billy Arnol’s shack on December 29, 2019.

Neisha, Mr Beames’ teenage daughter, told her dad the day before their trip she was “not the biggest fan of water” to which he replied swimming was “not his thing”, according to an affidavit.

His brother Mark added in an affidavit he too could not swim, and the brothers did not have swimming lessons as children.

Michael Beames, 35, is pictured.
Michael Beames, 35, drowned after coming off a jet ski. Source: Facebook

The inquest heard Mr Beames and the family had lunch with Mr Arnol after arriving. Mr Beames consumed one alcoholic drink.

Mr Arnol and the family then went to the beach with a 2017 Yamaha WaveRunner 1800cc Jet Ski which belonged to his brother-in-law Matthew West. Mr Arnol, Mr West and Mr Beames did not have the appropriate licence to operate it.

Mr Arnol took Mr Beames out as a passenger to show him how to operate it and both were wearing personal floatation devices.

Jet-ski ride not wearing floatation device

Mr Beames was thrown off the vessel a number of times during this demonstration but managed to “doggy paddle” back to it. Mr Arnol asked if he could swim and he replied enough to save himself.

Mr Beames took a break and took Neisha for a ride with him about an hour later but he was not wearing a floatation device. His daughter was and asked him to put one on. He told her not to worry.

But during their ride, both were knocked off the jet ski by a wave. Neisha told her dad to hold on to her and her floatation device but he struggled to swim and told her he could not touch the seabed with his feet. Neisha said her dad was panicked and seemingly out of breath.

They both got back to the jet ski and rode back to the shore. Neisha told her dad to stop riding but he insisted on going again. Neisha told the rest of the group about what had just occurred.

A person is pictured riding a jet ski.
A coronial inquest heard Mr Beames came off the jet ski and struggled to swim, but continued riding. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

Tragedy as dad drowns

Mr Arnol said they should call Mr Beames back. Mr Beames was riding it by himself and attempted a manoeuvre known as a “fishtail”.

Mitchell Hill, a witness driving by in a four-wheel-drive along the beach at the time, said he spotted the jet ski in the water with no one on it. 

He did not see Mr Beames come off it. He spoke with Mr Arnol and asked him if Mr Beames could swim. They both saw Mr Beames in the water “bobbing up and down” but not waving his hands about 150 metres from the shore.

Mr Hill used a kayak and paddled out to him. He was knocked out of the kayak. A local caravan park owner provided a dinghy to retrieve the pair. Corey Bourke, the boat’s owner, dived to the bottom of the seabed to retrieve Mr Beames but CPR was not able to revive him.

An autopsy later ruled he had drowned.

His death appeared inevitable, coroner says

Coroner Olivia McTaggart was satisfied the jet ski was mechanically sound and there was no evidence it collided with an object.

She said Mr Beames’ death was “completely avoidable” and after he made the decision to return to the water on the jet ski without wearing a floatation device “his death appeared inevitable”.

Ms McTaggart noted he also did not have a licence to operate the jet ski, had consumed alcohol before using it and was “unable to swim”.

“In this regard, he was aware from the previous rides on that day that it was quite likely that he would be thrown from the jet ski and would not be able to swim to save himself,” she said.

She commended Mr Hill and Mr Bourke for their efforts in trying to save him, and offered her condolences to Mr Beames’ family.

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