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Report released on young sailor Constants' death

CORRECTION: The following article about the accidental sailing death of 14-year-old Olivia Constants contains incorrect information. Her trapeze harness got caught on the trapeze wire that sailors use to prevent the boat from tipping, according to John Rousmaniere, who conducted the independent inquiry, and the life preserver played no part in her death. Rousmaniere said in a report that the Severn Sailing Association had an "extremely detailed and thorough" plan for handling emergencies. The Sun regrets the errors.

A report released last weekend detailing the accidental drowning of a 14-year-old Annapolis girl in June was consistent with the information made available by police at the time of her death.

The report, part of an investigation by an independent US Sailing panel into three separate fatal incidents this summer, concluded that Olivia Constants died after her life preserver became entangled with the rigging of the boat she was sailing moments after the vessel capsized in the Severn River.

Constants and a 13-year-old girl who was also part of the Chesapeake Racing Team's junior program were practicing when their boat, a Club 420, capsized in light but shifting winds. What the independent group brought in a couple of weeks later to investigate the accident determined to be a "routine" capsize turned tragic when her floatation device hooked into the trapeze and prevented Constants from freeing herself.

Sailors use a trapeze harness when they lean over the boat in the water to counterbalance the shift in wind to prevent the boat from tipping. Constants and her teammates were wearing life preservers. The other girl, who according to the US Sailing report was navigating, was not hurt.

The girl who was on the boat and also fell into the water said that she heard Constants say, "I'm stuck on something," but otherwise showed no sign of distress. Neither Constants' teammate nor coach, Arthur Blodgett, could immediately extricate Constants from a line connected to the mast that got entangled with her life preserver.

"She couldn't get up. She couldn't swim to the surface," said Dr. Gino Bottino, the head of the sports medicine committee and vice chairman of Safety-at-Sea for US Sailing. "Apparently there were six or seven people diving in the water trying to get her out."

Bottino said it was recommended that programs such as the one run by the Severn Sailing Association need to have emergency plans in place in case of such an accident. Bottino said that though Blodgett and others who tried to save Constants' life acted appropriately, no official emergency plan had been in place before the accident.

What is still being debated is whether sailors can practice situations similar to what Constants and her teammate faced after their boat capsized.

"One recommendation is to have specific training for capsize with the trapeze if you got stuck" Bottino said. "On the other hand, people feel that it's dangerous to subject sailors to do that without having rescue divers right there, you'd have to have two rescue divers present ready to extract the person. It would take two support boats, two certified divers. The expense of trying to run that training would be high when the chance of that happening is extremely low. It was a fluke thing that happened to her."

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