Club didn’t properly assess risk of trip that led to Limerick student’s death

University of Limerick student Aisling O'Connor who lost her life on the kayaking trip.

A TRIP organised by the University of Limerick Kayaking Club that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old student was not properly risk assessed, an investigation has found.

On November 2, 2019, the UL Kayaking Club (ULKC) made the trip to Glencar, County Kerry, to kayak in the Upper Caragh River. At around 2pm on the day, Aisling O’Connor (21), from Donegal, got into difficulty when her canoe became trapped under the branch of a tree.

Ms O’Connor was rescued from the water and transferred to hospital where she subsequently passed away. Another 21-year-old student was also rescued but made a full recovery.

A report into the incident by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) found that the conditions on the river on the day of the accident were not suitable for all members of the club and that the potential risks were not properly identified.

“The persons in charge of identifying and assessing the risks in advance, and on the day, were insufficiently trained and experienced themselves to be able to assess the risks given the combined factors of river conditions and the nature of the group,” the report read.

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This was due to a “lack of adherence” to the ULKC Safety Statement and the Trips Policy and Procedure, which in turn led to “poor decision making”, according to the report.

The report attributes the gaps in club safety with a lack of oversight by both the UL Student Life (the UL student representative body) and the University themselves, which meant there “was a serious disregard of the ULKC Safety Statement 2014 and Trips Policy and Procedure, and CI [Canoeing Ireland] recommended standards.”

The grade of the river on the day was cited as a causative factor of the accident. Rivers are rated for their difficulty to manoeuvre on a scale of one to five, with Grade 1 considered “flat water” and Grade 5 being “extremely difficult”.

The Upper Caragh River was a Grade 4 (“very difficult”) on the day of the incident. The MCIB report stated that the individuals in charge were too inexperienced to assess the risks and the group was too large for the river’s conditions.

In a joint statement both UL and UL Student Life said they are “extremely conscious of the heartbreaking loss of life at the centre of this tragic accident”.

“We remain absolutely committed to the health, wellbeing, and safety of our student community of over 18,000 students. The MCIB report into the incident … contains recommendations that are relevant to UL Student Life, the UL Kayaking Club, University of Limerick, Canoeing Ireland, and the Minister for Transport.”

They also said that the University and UL Student Life “will continue to work together to consider the findings of the final MCIB report and their implementation so that the highest possible safety standards are in place within all clubs to which our students are affiliated”.

UL Kayaking club activities are currently suspended while recommendations made in the report are considered.