Boy, 9, dies from carbon monoxide poisoning on boating holiday

A grieving mum has shared the heartbreaking story of her son’s death on a family holiday in the hope the tragedy will warn other parents about the dangers of boat trips.

Cassandra Free’s youngest son Andrew, 9, died while the family were enjoying a day of water sports on their motorboat at Lake Eufaula in the US state of Oklahoma.

It was initially thought the little boy had drowned after he fell from the Malibu Skier boat into the water, with emergency crews unable to revive him.

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But his devastated family has since learnt Andrew had been fatally poisoned by carbon monoxide from the boat’s exhaust.

A post-mortem into Andrew’s June 8 death found the boy, who was a strong swimmer, had a blood level of 72 per cent carboxyhemoglobin, which severely restricted the flow of oxygen to his brain.

Carbon monoxide has a reputation as a silent killer as it is odourless, colourless and lethal in high doses.

In a heartbreaking post on Facebook, Ms Free said she had no idea her three children were at risk of open-air carbon monoxide poisoning, saying Andrew was “slowly dying and we didn’t even know it”.

“Boats, even moving, create a backdraft of exhaust. That’s right. Exactly what I’ve typed: carbon monoxide exits the rear of the boat and drafts right back into the back of the boat,” Ms Free wrote, adding back seat riders like Andrew were especially vulnerable during long periods of the boat moving at low speeds.

“I didn’t know this. No one I know knew this. It’s called open-air carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Our little Andy, our dude, was probably slowly dying that afternoon/evening and we didn’t know it.

“He would’ve been tired. His head would’ve started to hurt. Sounds like too much sun after a long, physically draining day of wakeboarding, wake surfing and tubing.”

Ms Free said she has now learnt that as the day progressed, Andrew’s brain was being starved of oxygen – but tragically, no one had any idea at the time.

“Andrew crawled up onto the back edge of the boat while we were packing up at the dock and became unconscious and unaware of his impending death. We had no idea anything unusual was taking place,” she said.

“Had he not fallen over, had he made it into the car, even if he wouldn’t have passed at the lake, he would’ve been so severely brain-damaged that he likely would’ve passed away in his sleep on the way home.

“Even if he would’ve gone immediately to the ER at that time, he still would’ve died. No medicine could’ve saved him at his levels. There was nothing that could’ve been done at this point.”

She added: “I’ve been assured that my baby was so far gone that he did not cry out for me in his mind as he died. He went to sleep and that was it.”

Ms Free said Andrew may have been more vulnerable to the carbon monoxide than his two older brothers, who were bigger than him and moving around more on the boat through the day.

However, both older boys were also treated in hospital for acute carbon monoxide poisoning the day Andrew died.

“We could’ve lost all three of our children that night,” Ms Free said.

Ms Free wants other parents to understand of the risk of carbon monoxide backdraft on motor boats.

“People need to understand, we are experienced boaters,” she told NBC’s Today.

“My husband has almost 40 years and I have been boating for almost 25 years. We had a friend with us, she had been boating another 30 or so years.

“None of us had ever heard of it. None of us had considered it.

“It’s not common knowledge and we are going to have to be more proactive in sharing these stories,” she said.

“Somebody is going to have to take a closer look at boat emissions. We post road signs to let people know there might be falling rocks or a sharp curve. But there are no signs to tell people to turn off their boats or warn people of the danger of carbon monoxide.”

In 2017, a NSW coroner called for mandatory carbon monoxide alarms in vessels with sealable cabins after a Nicholas Banfield, a 23-year-old experienced boater, died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning on his yacht in Sydney Harbour.

Mr Banfield’s death in July 2016 followed a series of other maritime deaths associated with accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. is an Australian news and entertainment website owned by News Corp Australia. It had 9.6 million unique readers in April 2019 and specialises in breaking national and international news as well as entertainment, sport, lifestyle, travel, technology and finance.

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