Captain is faulted
in boy’s death

Inattention by the boatman led
to his ship colliding with a whale,
a report says

The captain of a whale-watching tour boat was distracted with the public address system in the wheelhouse when his vessel collided with a humpback whale near Diamond Head, causing the death of a 3-year-old boy last Christmas Day.

In a report, made available this week, the U.S. Coast Guard said Capt. Monroe L. Wightman III admitted to being distracted when he adjusted the volume of the PA system just before the collision.

"It is believed that Mr. Wightman acted with negligence by turning his back and walking away from the helm of the vessel at a critical time when whales were spotted in immediate vicinity of the vessel," the Coast Guard said.

The 3-year-old boy, Ryker Hamilton of Norfolk, Va., was fatally injured on the 77-foot American Dream, which was carrying 72 passengers on Christmas Day. The boy, who suffered head and neck injuries when he hit the handrail and deck, was aboard with his parents, Ryan and Renee, and grandparents.

During a preliminary Coast Guard investigation, Wightman did not disclose his distraction, and no wrongdoing was found on his part.

But Wightman later changed his testimony and admitted that he was distracted with the PA system just before the collision occurred. When asked by the Coast Guard why he did not disclose that statement earlier, Wightman said "he was scared as to what would happen to him," the report said.

In the final report, the Coast Guard said Wightman "could have brought the ship to a complete stop and avoided the incident had he not been distracted and seen the whales at the time they first appeared directly in front of the vessel."

The Coast Guard said he could have asked another crew member to adjust the volume. "His inattention was during a time when (Wightman) should have been even more focused at the helm for any potential unforeseen hazards since he knew the whales were in the area," the Coast Guard said.

The accident happened after Wightman announced over the PA system that he spotted a whale about 300 to 400 yards away. He steered the boat to get a closer view. A pod of humpback whales was spotted 10 minutes later about 100 to 300 feet from the bow.

Ryan Hamilton was holding his son in his arms when the boat collided with the whale. The impact caused Hamilton to lose his balance, and his son hit the rail with his head and neck before hitting the deck.

Death was "almost instantaneous," the report said, adding that "taking this into consideration, there was little that the passengers or the U.S. Coast Guard, who responded, could do to save Ryker Hamilton."

In its report, the Coast Guard has recommended civil penalties against Dream Cruises for not conducting drug and alcohol testing of the crew immediately after the accident, and has recommended proceedings against Wightman's license.

The Hamilton family had filed a lawsuit against Wightman and the cruise company. Trial will begin at U.S. District Court on March 1.

Attorneys representing the boat owners said, "We have not had the same access to information that the Coast Guard has had for the past 10 months and are, therefore, not in a position at this time to comment on the contents of the Coast Guard report."

"Aquamarine has a good safety record and has never had an accident involving marine mammals in the past," the attorneys said in a written statement. Aquamarine Hawaii runs the American Dream.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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