Boat Collision Leads To Fatality
Good evening, and welcome back to 7News; we trust that your Christmas holiday was enjoyable. For the most part, the two-day, midweek break was peaceful all around the country, and, tonight, we are glad to say there are no murders to report.
But there are two traumatic deaths to report. We start first with our coverage of the drowning at sea of 30-year-old Oscar Cornel Jr., who was a sitting councilor on the Trial Farm Village Council.
Information is still being gathered, but what we've been able to learn so far is that last night at around 7:15, the boat he was in, named ""Baby Gisselle" crashed into another vessel, named sir Alex about 5 miles southwest of Caye Caulker Village.
We understand that he was employed with the Nautilus Express Water Taxi Company, which specializes in transporting tourists from the airport to the Cayes. The water taxi company was in the process of transporting several American tourists last night, and Cornel was on-duty. The best information to 7News is that two separate water taxi teams were supposed to carry out this operation, where one was supposed to bring the tourists from Ladyville.
Another company boat and crew left San Pedro, and the plan was that the two teams would to meet up at a location near Caye Caulker, and a change-over was to take place. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan. The two vessels did travel to the meeting point, and according to the authorities, poor visibility on the sea caused the two captains to completely not realize that the vessels were on a collision course. The two boats slammed into each other and they both sustained extensive damages. Fortunately, the vessel carrying the tourists was still able to move after this crash, and the captain made an emergency diversion to Caye Caulker, just in time to secure his passengers.
The difficulty was with the smaller vessel. Its captain, identified as 36-year-old Mario Rosales, and his deckhand, Oscar Cornel Jr., were both flung from the boat which was basically shipwrecked. Police and Coast Guard were called in, and with the help of residents of Caye Caulker, search parties were formed. Later that night, one of the search parties found Rosales, who was stranded on an island. He managed to swim to safety, and he was rescued in mostly good health - but significantly the worse for wear after spending 4 to 5 hours in the sea on a cold night.
The search teams tried their best in the poor conditions, but they could not find Cornel. So, everyone suspended the search early this morning while it was still dark. There was hope that he would be found alive, but due to the weather conditions, and boat crash itself, there was worry that he was injured and in need of emergency medical help.
The search teams resumed early this morning, and sometime after midday, Cornel's body was found floating a few miles off the coastline of Caye Caulker. Coast Guard and police personnel transported him to Belize City this evening, and he was taken to the morgue for a post-mortem. Reports say he received injuries from the boat's propellor.
It's a tragic end for the Cornel family, and since the news of his body's discovery, there has been an outpouring of support for his loved-ones on Facebook. Oscar Cornell was his parent's only son.
Cornel Was a Village Councillor
And while Oscar Cornel's family couldn't speak with us today, CTV3 in Orange Walk did speak to his colleague Patti Witzil. Witzil is the Chairlady of the village council of which Cornell was an elected member. She knew him well, as they had worked on many community projects together. This afternoon she lamented the many plans for the future of the village that the council must now carry out without a vital member of their team. Here's the translation of her interview:
Patty Witzel, Chairlady Trial Farm Village Council
"Yesterday around midnight his father called me and he gave me the sad news that Oscar had disappeared in the sea because he works out there but we didn't have any news from him yet. And this morning the same they were still looking for him, we were hopeful that we'd find him alive but unfortunately, it couldn't be that way. They found him dead."
"He came in we all came in very excited, we were a new team with lots of hopes and he was very happy because we had lots of plans."
"Now trial farm is mourning because he was a big part of our village almost everyone from trial farm knew him and now we're all in mourning and his family is devastated along with us because one of our council members is gone without even being with us for a year and it's a great loss and we're sad because of it."
In a Facebook post today, Ramon Cervantez, the PUP standard-bearer for Orange Walk North, reminisced, "You were always a good friend to all, a hard-working councilor of the Trial Farm Village CouncilI never saw you angry, or unwilling or frustrated. You were always there to make things happen for Trial Farm." End quote.
Coast Guard Did Save One Man
We also spoke with both the Belize Coast Guard and Police about this boat accident and the ensuing search-and-rescue effort.
Although the story has ended in tragedy, there was one positive outcome. The Coast Guard managed to rescue the boat captain who was also flung into the sea with Oscar Cornel Jr. Here's what their operations officer told us today about their quick response to this marine accident:
Lt. Roque Canul - Operations Officer, Belize Coast Guard
"Around 7:10 last night, we got information about a boat collision in an area West of Caye Caulker. We did our best to get as much information as possible, and from then on, we launched operations."
"Apparently, they were supposed to meet in an area behind Caye Caulker. A boat was heading from Ladyville toward Caye Caulker, and then, there was another boat that was supposed to meet them, and that boat was coming from San Pedro. They were supposed to do the transfer, and then, they would go their directions. However, due to poor visibility, they had a collision in that area."
"These 2 two sets of individuals were supposed to meet, but they ended up crashing instead, sir?"
Lt. Roque Canul
"Yeah, apparently, that's the information that we received. They belong to the Nautilus Express Tours in San Pedro."
"So far, we've found the captain of the smaller boat, Baby Giselle. He was found stranded in an area named, Cayo Rosario, however, his deckhand is still missing, and he's the person who we're looking at this point in time."
"Based on the weather conditions, once you're in the water, it's hard to stay warm because of the cold weather. So, it's kind of difficult. Thankfully the captain of the smaller boat, he managed to swim to the island. But, with regard to the other person, I don't know if he fell unconscious. So, that's what's making it difficult for us at this point in time."
"We're still doing our efforts to find a missing person, praying that we find him in the best of health, perhaps stranded on one of those islands. Since then, we've been launching operations. We have 2 units in the area doing search operations at this point in time."
"The units on the ground, they've received search areas that they will be conducting the search in. From what appears, it seems that we have a south-westerly drift. So, that's the area where we'll be focusing on for the next couple of hours."
According to reports, Mario Rosales was hospitalized at the KHMH.
Five Tourists Aged 14 - 46 Were In Collision
We also asked police to fill-in a few blanks about his accident off Caye Caulker, and here's what the police spokesperson had to say at today's press briefing:
Supt. Alejandro Cowo - OC, CIB
"Yesterday at about 7:30 pm Caye Caulker Police visited an area about 5 miles southwest of Caye Caulker where they were notified of a boat accident, as a result, they spoke to one of the boat captains Mr Jermaine Williams 37-years-old and he stated that he was coming from Ladyville towards Caye Caulker and upon reaching at that location he had an accident with another boat that was travelling towards their location, as a result, his boat received damages and he managed to reach Caye Caulker village along with his five passengers. They were taken to the health centre where they were admitted, treated, and discharged. The other boat captain was later found in that area 12 miles southwest of Caye Caulker village and he was found in good health one of the male person that was with that boat captain remains missing and we only know that he goes by the name Jose."
"Now has police established yet what may have led to the accident or who may have been at fault?"
Supt. Alejandro Cowo - OC, CIB
"Remember this is a matter for the port authority and it will be them that will be conducting investigations into this matter."
The occupants of the other vessel in this accident were mostly unharmed but were still taken to receive medical check-ups at the Caye Caulker Health Center.. They include a Belizean boat captain along with five tourists, aged 10, 14, 18, 43 and 46.
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