CHICAGO (CBS)– A report has been released revealing new information about a sailor who fell overboard and died during a sailboat race last July.
Experienced sailor Jon Santarelli, 53, fell off the Imedi during the Race to Mackinac on July 21, 2018, and an automatic inflatable life vest he was wearing — a device that should have kept him from drowning — didn’t work.
“When we heard what happened to Jon, I think everyone envisioned this could be me, or it could be a member of my crew,” said Eric Frisvold, a recreational sailor.
He joined the chorus of boaters asking the brand of vest Santarelli was wearing, and why it didn’t inflate.
A 61-page report has answers. It reveals what CBS 2 first reported last September: that the vest was destroyed at the funeral home where Santarelli was cremated.
But the cartridge from the vest was recovered. That piece of evidence, along with interviews with the surviving crew, led investigators to surmise.
A committee formed by the Chicago Yacht Club is responsible for the report. The club will be hosting free life-vest clinics with an emphasis on the upkeep of equipment in an attempt to prevent loss of life going forward.
“Hundreds of hours were spent on this, there were weekly meetings,” Nick Berberian, of the Chicago Yacht Club, said.
Berberian described the crisis situation in the report; mere minutes in a summer storm that proved tragic for Santarelli.
“These are 20-knot winds creating six- to eight-foot waves,” Berberian said.
Santerelli fell overboard at 2:26 p.m. as the Imedi dealt with large waves. At 2:28 p.m., he appeared comfortable in the water, but his life jacket had not inflated.
The report explained several of the crew members considered jumping in the water to try to retrieve Jon, but because of the rough water that seemed unwise.
At 2:30 p.m. Jon went underneath the boat, surfacing just 20 to 30 feet from it.
In hindsight, crew members thought they “should have thrown more flotation.”
Then at 2:32 p.m., approximately 6 minutes after going overboard, some watched as he slipped below the surface and they never saw him again.
“To watch someone slip away, is just something that is horrifying,” Berberian said.
The immediate questions after Santarelli’s death were why didn’t his vest inflate, and what brand was it?
The report revealed, for the first time, that Santarelli was wearing was an “SSM-Barcelone” vest, which contained a “Hammar MA1 inflator.”
Investigators were unable to analyze the vest because it was destroyed when Santarelli was cremated, but remnants from the burned inflator were recovered.
The report goes on to say the life jacket could have been 12 to 13 years old and a national expert tells CBS 2 the inflator inside should have been replaced every five years because it could deteriorate.
“Had the auto inflation worked, I don’t think we would be here today, I’m pretty certain of that,” Berberian said.
According to the report, it was unknown if the inflator in Santarelli’s vest had ever been replaced. His vest and the rest of the crews had been issued by the owner of the boat.