Speedboat skipper claims he 'lost his vision' seconds before smashing into buoy killing schoolgirl passenger | The Sun

A SPEEDBOAT skipper has claimed he "lost his vision" just seconds before he smashed into a buoy and killed a schoolgirl passenger.

The horror crash threw passengers overboard, left them with broken bones, and tragically killed 15-year-old Emily Lewis.

Emily suffered fatal injuries when the rigid inflatable boat collided with the 4.5m-high buoy at 36.8 knots in Southampton Water at around 10am on August 22, 2020.

Michael Lawrence, 55, who was driving the boat, has been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence, failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to proceed at a safe speed.

Experienced Lawrence, who served as an RNLI lifeboatman for 20 years, told Winchester Crown Court that he had lost his love of boating, having previously had a "fascination" for all types of vessels.

Describing the Stormforce 950 Rigid inflatable boat (Rib) involved in the accident, Lawrence said it was powerful vessel and added: "I would say it's one of the most capable Ribs that I have driven. The handling was exceptional."

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Lawrence said he wore a face mask during the fatal ride – and took a selfie photograph of himself wearing it – as part of precautions he was taking during Covid.

He said: "I have worn a mask to protect the people on the boat and myself as I am passing people very closely, within a metre. I was trying to be as safe as I could."

Lawrence denied being a "show-off" and added: "I have spent my whole life on the water and my whole life I have gone out to show people how to be safe on the water, and I have gone out when it has gone wrong to try to save people.

"I didn't believe anything I was doing was unsafe. I tried to give a ride that was the ride they expected or wanted, well within the limits of the boat and well within my limits."

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The court heard Lawrence crossed the wake of an Isle of Wight ferry and the Rib then drove straight at the buoy for 14 seconds before colliding with it.

But Lawrence said he would not drive deliberately straight at a buoy before making a last moment turn to create a thrill and added: "I do not believe that is a safe thing to do."

And he said he used his judgment to gauge the speed of the boat during the ride, but accepted he had misjudged it as the Rib earlier reached 44.7 knots – which is above the speed limit.

His voice cracking with emotion, Lawrence described how he lost his vision as the Rib headed for the buoy and he only saw it a moment before impact.

I lost my vision and by the time it came back it was a split second, that's how it felt."

He continued: "All I can remember is I came round the turn and straighten the boat up, I felt a little bit light-headed maybe, I don't know how to describe that.

"Then I lost my vision and then it came back, in my timeline, I lost my vision and by the time it came back it was a split second, that's how it felt.

"I do not know how to explain that, I referred to it as maybe (the length of) a sneeze, there wasn't a timeline of me going around for 10 seconds, it was a split second."

He continued: "I do not know if I might have blinked but as my vision cleared, the buoy was right in front of us, I do not know where it came from.

"As soon as I saw the buoy, I immediately pulled the throttles back to stop the boat. As I pulled the throttles back, I heard a thud, that's all I can remember.

"When I next have a memory, it was everything had changed, there were people everywhere."

Lawrence said he had injured his knee in the incident and described how after another Rib and a yacht came to assist, Emily's father asked him to help.

He added: "I spent many years on a lifeboat, I have attended many incidents, seen many horrible things.

"I have been used to going in after an incident, with the helicopter vision of being a rescuer, I have never been rescued before and I think I had problems coping with that."

Michael Howley, the owner of Seadogz, the company which operated the boat trip, is accused of not operating the boat safely.

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Lawrence said he had known Howley for around 15 years and began driving Ribs for him about seven years ago.

The speedboat skipper, of Blackfield, New Forest, and Howley, of Hordle, New Forest, both deny the charges. The trial continues

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