Headteacher charged in Præstø boating deaths

Following a lengthy investigation into last year’s Præstø boating tragedy, the headteacher of a Lundby boarding school has been charged with manslaughter and the school itself may be fined

Lundby School headteacher Truels Achton Truelsen was charged today with involuntary manslaughter stemming from a February 2011 boating accident involving 13 students and two teachers who had taken a dragon boat out to sea in Præstø Fjord in south-eastern Zealand.

The boat capsized in rough weather, leaving one teacher dead and seven students in artificial comas, six of whom suffered serious brain damage. Some of the students continue to suffer from the effects of the accident.

If found guilty, Truelsen could face up to four years in prison while the school itself would be fined, according to public prosecutor Michael Boolsen.

“The charge against the school is comparable to those against privately-run companies, so there will obviously not be any prison time, but the sanction will be a fine,” Boolsen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Bjarne Rasmussen, the chairman of Lundby's school board, said he was perplexed over the charges, but elated over the support the school has received from the parents.

“According to our investigations, the school followed all the rules that were present at the time of the accident,” Rasmussen told Jyllands-Posten. “I’m especially pleased that many parents – also those of children that have joined the school after the accident – have supported us.”

It has not been decided when a court hearing will take place, although it seems likely that it will occur at the beginning of next year, roughly two years after the date of the accident.

Both police and the Danish maritime accident investigation board, Den Maritime Havarikommission, investigated the incident, assembling a considerable number of doctor's statements and health records.

A female teacher was questioned after the accident, but while Boolsen said that she was never charged, he refused to say that other individuals wouldn't be charged.

Præstø accident timeline:

·         On Friday, 11 February 2011, a boat carrying 13 students and two teachers from Lundby School capsized in Præstø Fjord about 1.7 kilometres from Præstø harbour.  

·         One of the students alerts the authorities at 12.47.

·         Seven students and a 33-year-old female teacher manage to swim to shore on their own.

·         At 15:20, 14 out of the 15 people involved were out of the water and taken to hospital. A 44-year-old male teacher, Michael Jørgensen, did not survive.

·         Seven of the students were placed in artificial comas and some of them suffered brain damage to varying degrees.

·         After the accident, the school was heavily criticised for not following safety regulations.

·         The leadership of Lundby School dismissed the criticism, pointing to an investigation that the legal firm Bech-Bruun initiated on its behalf.

·         In September 2011,  a maritime report indicated that Lundby School was not properly aware of the risks involved with dragon boat sailing.

·         On 1 October 2012, a year after the maritime report, the police decide to charge the school's headteacher Truels Truelsen with involuntary manslaughter. The school itself faces a fine.