Officers investigating the death of a man who fell off a charter boat Sept. 1 on Lake Norman found no safety violations on the boat or in the captains response, Sgt. Barry Rowell of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said Monday.
Matthew Bell, 33, of Charlotte, was among 103 passengers and six crew members aboard the Ragin Mistress when he fell off the boat.
Only a couple of people saw Bell fall, Rowell said. Authorities must await the results of an autopsy to determine what caused Bell to fall near Marker D4, off Shearwater Point Drive in Cornelius. Those results could take several months, Rowell said.
In hopes of spotting Bell on the water that night, the captain promptly turned the boat around when he was told someone had fallen overboard, Rowell said. Police were contacted, and the Cornelius Fire Department sent out a boat.
Although Bell was employed by the Ragin Mistress, he was not on duty when he fell off the boat, Rowell told the Observer in a previous interview.
Officials searched the lake for days, even using sonar to probe under the water, but they could find no trace of Bell and ended the search Sept. 9.
A boater discovered Bells body Sept. 14 near where hed fallen in. Cornelius firefighters recovered the body.
Rowell has said its unclear why it took Bells body so long to resurface. He said the body might have been caught under something, but he added that the autopsy results could help answer that question.
The Ragin Mistress is one of five charter boats with a permit from the Lake Norman Marine Commission to operate on the lake. Representatives of Luxury Yacht Charters, the boats operator, have declined to discuss the drowning out of respect for Bells family.
The charter boat was in full compliance with required safety rules in the Lake Norman Marine Commissions ordinance governing charters, Rowell said Monday. The boards of commissioners of Iredell, Mecklenburg, Catawba and Lincoln counties appoint members of the Marine Commission.
Rules include having the required insurance, proof of a successful annual inspection, and a qualified captain aboard. A captain must hold a valid U.S. Coast Guard masters license.
Capt. Richard Permenter, former marine commission chairman, has said that requiring charter captains to obtain Coast Guard masters licenses adds a higher level of safety. One of the biggest things is the education on stability of large boats thats provided in the masters license course, Permenter said.
The death was the second involving a charter boat in the lakes 50 years, marine commission officials have said.
Nate Coppick, 19, who worked at Westport Marina in Denver, was killed in an explosion June 10, 2008, while refueling Championship Yacht Charters 80-foot Championship II boat. Suits against the marina owner and boat owner Cliff Champion were settled out of court.
In April, a Lincoln County jury took only 50 minutes to issue a $1.5 million judgment against a Denver company that supplied a fuel nozzle that caused the explosion. Jurors told the Observer they were unanimous in agreeing that Petroleum Equipment and Service had knowingly put people in danger by installing a piece of equipment that the state said was illegal to use at marinas.
Marusak: 704-987-3670 Twitter: @jmarusak
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