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Death on Dragonboat Day

They say it’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt. Unfortunately, at this year’s dragon boat races in Stanley, I witnessed first-hand the true meaning of this adage. Amidst the racing, the revelry, the drumming, and the drunken antics came a stupid and tragic accident.

After a few days of black rain, landslides and fallen trees, the weather auspiciously (or so we thought) cleared for race day. I wasn’t paddling this year so I had free license to roam the party boats lining the racecourse. Ferries and sampans waited at the shore to shuttle people out to the boats. I started my day at Zone B where I boarded the Time-Warner boat simply because one of my friends works for that company. Adjacent to that was the BNP Paribas luxury junk yacht where a righteous party was going on. On the other side, there were 2 JP Morgan boats lined up next to each other. My friend and I spotted someone we knew at the 2nd JP Morgan boat so we decided we’d hop over there for a visit.

It’s common practice to hop from one boat to another but, the gap between our boat and the JP Morgan boat was wide and the railings of both boats were quite high. It was going to be challenging and somewhat dangerous to cross from boat to boat this way. A guy from the JP boat started to pull the boats closer together so we could get on, but their boat bitch started yelling at us saying they were full and we couldn’t get on. She handed us some conciliatory beer pitchers instead.

Undeterred, we decided to hire a small sampan to take us one boat down so we could board  properly and safely. Once onboard, we climbed the ladder to get to the upper deck and I remarked how slippery the floors of the junk were due to the spillage of beer and other liquids. I was treading very lightly so I wouldn’t fall and make an ass of myself.

People were migrating at will from one boat to the other and the DJs had the party-goers dancing with some crowd-pleasing hip-hop tunes. Incidentally, I remarked how young and alternative the crowd looked for a banker’s boat. About 50 percent of the people on the boat had had tattoos.

Anyway, everyone was having a grand old time chatting, flirting, drinking beer, and laughing when a bunch of people went to the boat next door for a hula-hoop contest. I wasn’t sure what the winner won, but I think the loser was supposed to get his head shaved. At one point, a big crowd gathered around the adjoining boat to watch one guy getting all his hair razored. I noticed a few people crossing over the top deck to get from boat to boat and I thought to myself- gee, that’s dangerous since the decks are so slippery and people have been drinking.

I stopped looking, but suddenly there was a big ‘Thud’ and a splash followed by a huge commotion. People started screaming “Someone’s fallen in the water!! Who is it?? Help! Someone call an ambulance! Call for help!!”  I didn’t actually see the guy fall in, but his burgundy and white trucker cap was still floating ominously on the surface. My girlfriend, who saw some of it happen, was freaking out. I asked her who it was but all she knew was the guy was really tall.

Random people started jumping in the water after the fallen man but the water was dark and murky and it was impossible to see anything. “Goggles!! Goggles!! Does anyone have goggles?? Move the boats apart!! Turn the motors off- It’s dangerous!! Someone call an ambulance please!”

A communal panic ensued and people’s shouts became more frantic. 5 minutes passed and the guy still hadn’t surfaced. People were still swimming around in vain looking for him in water with zero visibility. The water looked so dirty. There was loads of garbage floating within and one guy seemed to be surrounded by an oily veil of gas from the boat’s engine.

“Who was it??” People were yelling. “It was Eric Tutera” someone said. Then everyone starting yelling “Eric!!! Eric can you hear us?? ERIC!!!! ERIC!!!!” “Someone please call Eric’s cell phone!” Everyone wanted to do something to help- but in the confusion, not much could really be done.

10 minutes passed and all the boats in the vicinity had moved off to the side exposing a potential area where the body could resurface. A few guys sped off in a powerboat to get the police to come and help, but short of having a team of rescue divers on call, not much could have been done.

Police boats surrounded the area, and a helicopter flew overhead. Some guys that were dressed like the fire brigade in helmets and fireproof jackets came to the scene of the accident on an orange zodiac. People were pointing in the water but what were the firemen going to do? Dive in with their jackets and plastic helmets? A feeling of uselessness and helplessness pervaded the air.

The clock kept ticking and about 20-30 minutes had passed. The crowd had lost hope that poor Eric could be rescued. Most likely he hit his head on the way down and was already unconscious when he hit the water. In that state, he probably sank directly to the bottom.

Meanwhile the event continued- the guns at the starting line continued to blast at the start of each race, people were still cheering the paddlers on and happy unsuspecting spectators zipped by on speedboats until they were warned by police not to cross the area. People on the surrounding boats continued to drink, dance and take in the beauty of the clouds framed by the afternoon sun.

The people on our boat were shell-shocked. One guy who had dived in to try to save Eric  was sitting at the foot of the boat with his head in his hands. A blonde girl, who possibly knew Eric personally, could no longer hold back her tears. She burst out crying and her friend took her in his arms to try to comfort her. There were group hugs and a piece of paper was being circulated to get the names and numbers of the people who witnessed the accident. There was nothing more that could be done. I heard a guy on the orange Zodiac say that divers were coming to search the area. But by the time they would get there the only thing they’d find was a dead bloated body.

They wanted everyone who didn’t actually witness the accident to get off the boat so my friend and I guiltily left. Why is it when you witness someone die, that you sometimes feel like it’s your fault? We didn’t even know Eric, nor did we even meet him, but it was so very tragic. It was a really silly accident. Everyone was just drinking and having a laugh. Who knew that we’d be faced with the heaviness of our own mortality on such a festive day?

There was a big colorful rundown of the races in the paper. They even talked about how lucky we were that the weather had cleared. However the accident garnered little more than a one line footnote. ‘An expat man in his 30’s suffered a blow to the head and fell missing in the water. The police are still searching for his body.’

My girlfriend called me crying at 1am saying that she couldn’t sleep and she kept replaying the incident in her head. I tried to calm her down and assured her that there was nothing she could have done. At least he died quickly and painlessly.

 If anything can be learned from this incident, it’s two things:
1. Don’t take silly unnecessary risks- especially if your judgement has been somewhat impaired by alcohol
2. Live and love everyday like it may be your last because we’re all going to die someday.

Eric- if you have left us- may you Rest in Peace.


( 162 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 10th, 2008 01:08 am (UTC)
I just heard the horrible news. Am still in shock. I have been searching for more information about this and somehow fell onto your site. I knew Eric. I have known him since high school. We went to college together too. The news has traveled to all of his friends back home. What kind of boats were these that people would jump back and forth from??
Jun. 10th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
A lost friend
I am one of Eircs friends from back home. To correct your story his last name is not cetera but that is just a small detail at this time. As one of his friends this is one of the hardest things to go through. I am unable to be with his family during this time of need and to not know all the details of what happened is even more difficult. He was a great person, one that no one could say a bad thing about. We were all so proud of him for taking this job in HK. Eric had emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me all the great things he was doing in hong kong and now to hear this news, there are just no words...Eric your memory will forever live through your friends and family!
Jun. 23rd, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
Re: A lost friend
Jun. 10th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)
Correction on Eric's last name
His name is Eric Tutera. I paddle with him. Please pray for him.
Jun. 10th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
I would like to send my deepest sympathy to all of Eric's family,friends,and team members. Our team was beside the Junk when it happened. We were heading in for our final race of the day, all excited. But when we returned we knew instantly that something was not right. It is such a tragedy...prayers to all of his loved ones.
Jun. 10th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC)
Thanks for clarifications and let's all pray for Eric.
Thank you Eric's friends for letting me know what his name was. I just heard his name while I was on the boat and had no idea how it was spelled.

I too, was looking for more info on what happened. I only knew what I saw and heard. When I left Stanley, I didn't knew know if they had recovered the body or not. I don't even know till today and have been trying to find out. There really wasn't much in the paper about it.

If anyone has any further info, please post it here for all the concerned parties to see.

Yes, let's pray for poor Eric and let's just be comforted to know that he didn't suffer.
Jun. 10th, 2008 08:46 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks for clarifications and let's all pray for Eric.
Just had confirmation from one of his colleagues that they have recovered Eric's body.


+ RIP Buddy +

Jun. 10th, 2008 05:30 am (UTC)
overboard accident
As of Monday afternoon, the authorities have extended the search to Repulse Bay and also Deep Water Bay.

What they should have done was to have a couple of divers in the area to standby in case of accidents. I was on the Time Warner boat when one of the girls from the JP Morgan boat yelled over for help and asked me to call the police. They sent helicopters and the Marine department and police patrol boats all showed up... even with firemen arriving on another boat. None of them did anything but watch... if they had a diver, they could have done a much better job than all those who jumped in trying to look through the murky waters.

And to clarify for one of the earlier comments, these are double-deck yachts. JP Morgan had 2 of them connected to ours and others until their skipper decided to untie the ropes... I don't think that was a safe thing to do.
Jun. 10th, 2008 05:52 am (UTC)
I was walking his dog at the time and knew something was up when he didnt reply to my text messages that i sent telling him everything was ok with Guinness (his pet rottweiler) as he loves his dog.

I still can't believe this has happened...ive only know him for a few weeks but we went out together every weekend prior to this and as his friends from back home have said he was a great and funny guy.

May he rest in peace.

Rob +
Jun. 10th, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
I also had only known Eric for a brief time in Hong Kong, but he made such an impression on me that I commented in e-mails back home to friends in the States what a genuinely nice and hilarious American I met over here.

I just want to send my deepest condolences and prayers to his family and friends at this time.

- Sean
Jun. 10th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)

Like some others here, I didn't yet know you well. But from the times I'd met you, I saw how you're the kind of person it's worth getting to know better - good, kind, funny and generous. So I was looking forward to hanging out more.

Wherever you are now, buddy, I hope it's a fitting place for a man of your character.

Our thoughts are with you and your family and friends around the world.
Jun. 10th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
I live in a tower that overlooks the bay. A lot of rescue ships were there all day. Knowing what had happened on Sunday, I knew they were looking for him. I gathered tonight that his body had been recovered as all the ships disappeared...
I pray for him and his family - this is really tragic.
Jun. 10th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
Eric T.
I worked with Eric for nearly 2 years and I'm stunned, in total shock. He was an amazing individual, great colleague and good friend and I will miss him terribly. I'm devastated for his family and friends, and even for his dog which he loved so much. There are no words to describe how tragic this is, but as someone mentioned already, Eric will live on through those that knew him. I only hope we can make him proud. And though I can't imagine what his family is going through, I'm grateful he was found so his family could bring him home. Eric, thank you for being a wonderful part of my life. I'll miss you and think of you often, and I will pray for you and your family. Rest in peace.
Jun. 10th, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
Rest in Peace Brother, you were a great friend and a huge help whenever I needed it.
Jun. 10th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Eric's dog
Is someone going to take Eric's dog? Poor thing. This is such a sad story.
Jun. 10th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
Body found on HK beach following dragon boat fall
HONG KONG - A DEAD body was found floating near a Hong Kong beach on Monday, police said, amid reports an American man fell into the sea and disappeared during the city's annual dragon boat festival.
The body was discovered off the popular Stanley Beach at 2 pm (0600 GMT), a Hong Kong police spokesman said.

'It is believed the body was that of a foreigner, although there was no identification found on the body,' she said.

The discovery comes after a 28-year-old man was reported missing to police on Sunday after falling into the sea near Stanley during the annual festival, where revellers gather aboard boats to watch the all-day races.

The spokesman said there was no suspicious circumstances regarding the death.

An account of the incident on local website, hiphongkong.com, said the man appeared to have fallen when trying to cross between two pleasure boats where people were watching the races.

A posting on the website said he was American.

The annual festival is a huge event in Hong Kong's social calendar, attracting hundreds of competitors and large crowds of raucous spectators. -- AFP

Jun. 10th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
I have known Eric and his family since elementary school. He has always been a wonderful person with an amazing personality and the ability to cheer up those around him. His memory will forever live, and this tragedy will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his family! Eric we love you, rest in peace!
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