Clues might seem scant. Boating accidents don't leave skid marks on the pavement like car crashes. Security cameras rarely document the incident. The debris doesn't sit on the road; it floats out to sea.
That's when marine reconstruction experts begin their work.
Call them the hull whisperers. They labor for months on behalf of mourning families, insurance companies, vessel manufacturers and the general public.
A shredded bow, dented metal and broken lights are among the clues they rely on to re-create what went wrong.
"Witness marks" is what
"The metal and fiberglass doesn't have a bias," Taylor said. "We call all those marks 'witness marks' because they are solid evidence and may have more integrity than a witness."
Witness marks in a vessel's hull may lead an investigator to a scrape pattern along a boat bottom, and then to the propellers and mechanical equipment, and "often will allow us to determine speed and orientation," Taylor said.
Taylor's colleagues in the business also use sophisticated technology for reconstructing crashes. A laser scanner makes millions of measurements and documents the damage in a very precise manner, enabling investigators to know the location of the first point of contact in a collision and the direction the boater was coming from, Taylor said.
A boat's GPS, used by many recreational boaters, can be an invaluable record of a vessel's positions and speed during a trip.
"Speed is a key factor to know in a fatal boat crash," Taylor said. "Depending upon how they're set up to record data, GPS can act like a black box on an airplane. We go after downloading that, and it has to be done in a specific way to not damage or corrupt the data that is on there."
Fernandez, a 24-year-old beloved All Star pitcher, died
Also killed were
The vessel was towed that day to an FWC facility for storage and examination. Beyond that, the FWC has said little, and it has backtracked on many of its early statements.
A spokesman initially said that someone other than Fernandez owned the boat and that the agency had stopped the vessel in the past for safety violations. He also said there was no indication that alcohol or drugs was involved.
An FWC accident report later said that it was unknown whether alcohol was a factor, and officials said the results of toxicology tests on the three victims may take weeks or months. The agency also said there was no record of any of them being cited.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues -- at the crash scene and around town. Fernandez had docked his boat that night at American Social Bar & Kitchen on the
Police and accident reconstruction authorities will rely heavily on autopsy findings, including evidence of where and how victims' bodies were injured, and blood and alcohol test results, said
Investigators also will consider where blood stains and tissue appear on a vessel. The remains would be tested for DNA to help determine where crash victims were on a boat and who may have been driving.
"There is always physical evidence," said Getz, a retired captain with the
A former instructor for the
Most boating accidents are caused by operator error, Getz said. "Is the operator familiar with the waterway? Are they going at a safe speed so they can see the object in front of them? Did lights from land make a breakwater not visible to them?"
Getz and Taylor would only speak about marine accident investigations in general terms and declined to discuss the Fernandez crash.
Rubio also said he is a boater and has "experienced firsthand the challenges this jetty can present to others trying to navigate around it."
It found the existing navigational aids -- red and green buoys that notify boaters what direction to take when traveling through the inlet -- were sufficient.
The two jetties at Government Cut are maintained by the
No commercial vessels have crashed on the jetties in the past five years, the
In the same time period, the FWC said, there have been 20 incidents with recreational boaters and those on personal watercraft near the inlet, in the sea nearby and on the
Thirteen of those incidents -- ranging from falls from personal watercraft to fires to collisions or striking underwater objects -- were blamed on operator inattention, no proper lookout, excessive speed and improper anchoring.
Congested waters and machinery failure also were causes.
The two jetty crashes, in 2010 and 2012, were briefly described in records obtained by the
A boat was traveling north along the shore on the ocean side of
In the second incident, a vessel was heading west at
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