In mid-June, a 20-year-old Coast Guard sailor died of head injuriessustained when he fell 120 feet from the rigging of the sail-training barque Eagle off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands.Seaman Apprentice Greg LaFond, of Raymond, N.H., reportedly fell from a position about two-thirds of the way up the vessel’s 147-foot mainmast at about 1800 on June 11. Witnesses said he struck something solid in the rigging before falling into the sea as the vessel was at anchor near St. John. It was the first fatal accident aboard Eagle since 1980, when a 28-year-old sailor was killed by falling rigging that broke loose during mast-stepping operations.
Although Coast Guard sailors, like those on most sail training vessels, wear safety belts when aloft, it is only practical to make use of a belt from a stationary position in the rigging. Witnesses to the accident suggested that LaFond was most likely moving about in the rig when, for unknown reasons, he lost his footing or his grasp and fell. Sailors routinely climb the masts and lie out along crossed steel yards to work the vessel’s square sails.
The victim was rescued from the water and transferred by small boat to St. Thomas, where a Coast Guard helicopter was waiting to fly him to San Juan, P.R. He was pronounced dead during the flight.
LaFond graduated from Coast Guard basic training in 1997 and had been a member of the Eagle’s crew for nine months.