They may have survived in the sea for a time


Left to right Jason Downer, Rupert Saunders and James Meaby. Pic from Solent News Agency

Two of the three yachtsmen found drowned in the English Channel had time to inflate their lifejackets, an inquest heard today.

James Meaby, 36, from Tooting, south London, and Jason Downer, 35, from Kent, were found with their lifejackets manually inflated, while the third crew member, Rupert Saunders, 36, also from Tooting, was wearing a lifejacket which had automatically inflated.

The details emerged at a brief opening and adjournment into the deaths of the three men who drowned off the Isle of Wight on August 20 when their 25ft Sailfish sloop disappeared.

The Isle of Wight Coroner, John Matthews, also revealed that the deaths happened just seven days before Mr Downer was due to celebrate his 36th birthday on August 27.

Mr Matthews told the hearing how the body of Mr Meaby was discovered in the sea 10 miles south of Nab Tower on August 22 and subsequently the bodies of Mr Downer and Mr Saunders were located south of St Catherine’s Point a day later.

Mr Matthews said: “It is known they were last seen on board a yacht called The Ouzo, which left Bembridge Harbour on August 20 scheduled for a voyage to Dartmouth, and nothing more was heard of them after the yacht left the harbour.”

Mr Matthews said the three bodies were all found wearing yachting clothing and lifejackets.

He said: “It appears the lifejackets were in two cases manually inflated and the other automatically.

“In the case of Mr Meaby, the cause of death is stated by the pathologist to be consistent with a combination of drowning and hypothermia.

“As far as the other two were concerned, the pathologist says it is consistent with drowning.”

Mr Matthews added: “At the time there was a large-scale search, both air and sea, once the first body was found, for the wreckage or some sighting of the yacht, which has not yet been found.

“There are police inquiries which are ongoing elsewhere. Not only that, there is an inquiry by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, but at this stage the cause that led to these three young men being in the sea is totally unknown.

“I will adjourn this inquest into the deaths of these three men to a date to be fixed when these inquiries are completed.”

It emerged earlier this week that Hampshire Police’s marine unit examined the hull of the P&O ferry The Pride of Bilbao at Portsmouth, as well as the black box data recorder of the vessel on Tuesday.

Police believe the men’s yacht may have been in collision with a larger vessel and the police inquiry focused on the P&O ship after “something of interest” was seen on the black box.

A Hampshire Police spokeswoman said after the inquest that they are still seeking witnesses who saw The Ouzo after it left Bembridge on the Isle of Wight on Sunday evening.

She added that no arrests had yet been made as part of the inquiry.