The V.I. National Park’s 2007 death toll rose to four on Monday, September 5, when 52-year-old tourist Mark Moorehead, a resident of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, died while snorkeling off the 65-foot sloop New Horizons at Honeymoon Beach.
Moorehead, who was wearing a snorkel vest at the time, reportedly began struggling just 10 to 15 minutes after entering the water, according to a V.I. National Park press release.
“Witnesses stated that the victim was in the water approximately 10 to 15 minutes with a companion when he yelled out to her in a manner that alarmed her,” according to the release. “The friend noticed the victim’s lips were blue and he had a look of ‘fear’ on his face. According to the witnesses, the friend immediately yelled for help as the victim began floating face down.”
The VINP, St. John Rescue and St. John EMS were all notified and responded to the scene at around 11:15 a.m. Representatives from the three agencies took turns performing CPR on the victim, who was then transported to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center. Moorehead was pronounced dead there at approximately 12:25 p.m.
Moorehead, who was not a good swimmer according to a source who was at the scene, appeared to be in distress soon after entering the water, explained St. John EMS Association President Carol Beckowitz.
Snorkel Vest Required
“We were led to believe that whatever happened happened immediately when he went into the water,” said Beckowitz.
Moorehead was wearing a snorkel vest at the time of the incident, which is required of New Horizons’ guests, according to company vice president Holly Jenkins.
“Snorkel vests are not required by law, but we do require our guests to wear them, and he was wearing his,” said Jenkins.
Snorkel vests differ from traditional life jackets in that they allow snorkelers to float while swimming face down with their head in the water, while life jackets keep one’s head above water, even while unconscious. Although the incident has been classified as a drowning by the VINP, Moorehead may have died from other causes, explained Jenkins.
“We didn’t classify it as a drowning, because an autopsy has not been done,” she said. “Our captain, who gave him CPR on the beach, thought it might have been a heart attack. Ultimately, it has to be determined by the autopsy.”
An autopsy will be conducted, according to VINP Chief Ranger Mark Marschall. Getting the results of the autopsy, however, may prove difficult.
The VINP is still awaiting results of autopsies performed on two other people who died in the Park earlier this year. One of those deaths, originally believed to have been a drowning, may actually have been caused by a blood clot, according to the victim’s widow.
The Moorehead death was the first incident of its kind for New Horizons, according to Jenkins.
“We’ve never had this happen before,” she said. “It was an unfortunate accident.”