Matthew Meinert and son Oliver just before they took off Star-Telegram image

Matthew Meinert and son Oliver just before they took off
Star-Telegram image

On Monday, 6 March 2017, Matthew Meinert, 38 of Trophy Club Texas, and his two year old son, Oliver, went fishing in Denton Creek near Lake Grapevine in the Fort Worth – Dallas Texas area. Matthew Meinert was last seen Monday near Lake Grapevine.

Matthew and Oliver launched their boat about 5 pm Monday from Tropy Club boat ramp.

Between 5 and 6 pm Monday a boater found his boat on shore abandoned on Denton Creek just west of Highway 377 in what was referred to an an unusual location. The boater used the cell phone to call the family, then called 911.

Meinert's boat as found on shore clipped from a Fox 4 image

Meinert’s boat as found on shore
clipped from a Fox 4 image

His cell phone and life jackets were found with the boat.

A search and rescue effort was mounted Monday night. The search was called off at 2am for safety, and restarted at 9am Tuesday. As a Flower Mound police officer and a game warden were headed to the boat on Tuesday morning about 8:45am, they saw two year old boy, Oliver, walking though heavy brush. He had survived being alone and cold in the woods overnight in a t-shirt and shorts with all kinds of wildlife nearby. Oliver was scratched up and cold but safe, and asked the officers for juice. He was taken to the Cooks Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth to be check out, and found to be fine.

Brandon Barth, Emergency Management Officer with Flower Mound Fire Department noted in an interview with Dallas Morning News per Texas Hill Country that wildlife in the area included “snakes to coyotes to hogs”, and that it was quite a blessing that Oliver made it through the night.

Texas Game Wardens web site issued a statement from the family:

The family of Matthew Meinert has asked that the following statement be shared.
 

“The family of Matthew Meinert are very saddened at the loss of a wonderful husband, father, son and great friend. His love for his wife and son Oliver, was beyond belief. Matt’s final hours were spent doing what he loved, playing and fishing with Oliver. Our faith has told us that Matthew was looking over his son during the night Oliver spent alone in the woods.
 

We would like to thank all the people of the Trophy Club Community who offered prayers and support during this time. We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the First Responders during the search, rescue and recovery.
 

We want to express much appreciation to the Trophy Club Police Department, specifically officer Lieutenant Tracey Shields. Thanks also to the Game Warden team, and Captain Cliff Swofford for their compassion and respect for the family during this difficult time.
 

We want to thank everyone for their thoughts and generosity. We ask for your continued prayers.
 

The family of Matthew Meinert.”

Search and rescue efforts were compounded by debris in the creek and its shallow depth of 1 to 11 feet.

News agencies reported it was unknown if the young boy had a life jacket on when he was found or not.

Officers reported, Oliver was unable to shed any light on what happened.

Just before Matthew and Oliver took off on their fishing trip, Matthew sent his wife a selfie of them together, the picture at the top of this post.

They were in a jon boat powered by a tiller steered Yamaha outboard motor. Friends reported Oliver often went fishing and duck hunting with his dad.

Matthew Meinert's jon boat clipped from WFAA video

Matthew Meinert’s jon boat
clipped from WFAA video

The search and recovery effort included 30 to 50 people at times from area agencies, drones, a helicopter, canine units, and at least 3 boats. Drones were used to search the woods nearby the creek.

By Thursday they switched to recovery mode. Game wardens in teams of two searched the water and banks 3 to 4 times per day per the Star-Telegram.

Matthew Meinert’s body was found underwater in six feet of water Friday 10 March, just yards from where his boat was found. Per Officer Swofford, he did not have a life jacket on when his body was found.

Many reports noted foul play was not expected. There was no mention of alcohol in any of the media reports.

Tarrant County Medical Examiner said Matthew Meinert died after being struck in the head by a boat propeller.

A big thanks to all the search and rescue folks. This list comes from NBC5: “Emergency personnel from Trophy Club, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Roanoke, Flower Mound, Argyle, Little Elm, Mansfield, Hurst, Joshua and Denton County assisted in the searches, which included searches on foot with trained dogs, with a boat equipped with sonar and with drones and a Department of Public Safety helicopter.”

Also a big thanks to the boaters that found the boat, called the family, and called 911. Matthew and Oliver had only been out about an hour. If the boat had not been reported till the next day, Oliver might not have been found alive.

A GoFundMe page has been setup to raise funds for the family. The page notes he also went by Matt and Matty.

Star-Telegram reports the U.S. Secret Service assisted in accessing data on the cellphone that was found that might assist in identifying the boat’s route.

Kill Switch Lanyard

As mentioned in the possible accident scenarios below, among the scenarios that could have happened is that Matthew Meinert fell out of or was ejected from or removed his hand from the tiller when the boat was underway. In such instances with a tiller steered (uses an extended handle on the outboard to steer it vs. a steering wheel) the outboard will swing to one side and the boat will circle in what is called the Circle of Death. To prevent this from happening, modern tiller steer outboards supply a kill switch lanyard. The lanyard is attached to the boat operator and to the outboard. If the operator falls out, the other end of the lanyard activates a switch that kills the outboard engine. In such instances the outboard will not continue to circle with the boat operator in the water.

Kill Switch used by ABYC / Design Research Engineering to illustrate what a safety lanyard is.

Kill Switch image used by ABYC / Design Research Engineering to illustrate what a safety lanyard is in a report about warnings.

You can see the red lanyard in the image below extending from the tiller steered outboard to the boat operator. It runs across his tan pants just below his belt.

Mercury Marine inflatable boat

Mercury Marine inflatable with kill switch lanyard in use on tiller motor
image furnished by Mercury Marine

In the Meinert accident, we found no mention in the media or in official press statements of whether or not (1) this outboard was equipped with a kill switch, (2) a kill switch lanyard was found in the vessel, (3) a kill switch lanyard was found attached to his body, or (4) the kill switch lanyard had been in use.

While actual survey data of kill switch lanyard use is virtually non-existent, it is well known that many people do not attach the kill switch lanyard. In fact, the State of Texas is currently considering making their use mandatory. House Bill 1988 sponsored by Lyle Larson would make their non use a violation of the Texas Water Safety Act. A 18 February 2017 Houston Chronicle news report says surveys indicate fewer than half the boat operators use them, and perhaps as few as 10 percent on Texas waterways use them.

Possible Accident Scenarios

While exactly what happened is speculation and conjuncture til the accident investigation is completed, KVUE reported, “While investigators still haven’t pieced the entire puzzle together, the prevailing theory is that Matthew Meinert might have fallen out into the water with the boat continuing under its own power until it hit shore and rammed into the tree.”

On 13 March 2017 the Star Telegram said:

A Trophy Club man who died from a propeller strike last week on Denton Creek may have hit an object with his boat, throwing him into the water, authorities said Monday.
 
Police and a game warden said Monday they still are not sure how the accident occurred that killed Matthew Meinert, 38, of Trophy Club. But the boat was damaged, police Lt.Tracey Shields said Monday.
 
“There was no indication that he had had a problem with the motor and that he was in the water to fix it when he got hit,” Shields said.

We add they were fishing an area close to their home they had likely fished several times before.

Note: kill switch lanyards and their use are discussed in the section immediately above this one.

We would add the following POSSIBLE scenarios:

THE POSSIBLE SCENARIOS BELOW ARE ALL CONJECTURE AT THIS TIME

  1. While underway Matthew Meinert took his hands off the tiller handle for a moment for any possible reason, such as to reach for Oliver, to catch his hat as it was blowing off, to prevent being struck by low hanging brush, to grab something in the water, etc. Once his hand left the tiller, the torque of the propeller quickly flipped the outboard motor to one side, and the boat went into the Circle of Death (a tight circle), he was ejected and struck by the propeller, and the boat eventually rammed onto shore, killing the engine, allowing Oliver to escape. THIS IS TOTAL CONJECTURE AT THIS TIME, but we have seen many similar accidents in the past in which a child or dog remained onboard.
  2. If they stopped along the way and needed to restart the outboard and the tiller outboard is rope started, it is possible to fall overboard when starting the outboard and they have sometimes been known to start in gear, ejecting the person starting them. Then circling unmanned in the Circle of Death. THIS IS TOTAL CONJECTURE AT THIS TIME.
  3. Boat operators are typically struck after the boat goes around at least once. The small outboard may not have been going very fast but the circle could have been pretty small. Sometimes those in the water try to get young children to kill the engine. Sometimes those in the water try to re-board the circling boat, lose their grip and are struck by the propeller. Sometime they are able to push small boats of the nature of this one away from them. The water is shallow in much of this area, he may have fallen in, struck his head, and been temporarily unconscious and the boat struck him.
  4. Small outboard propellers are smaller in diameter and do not have a lot of horsepower. Many people have been critically injured and maimed for life by them, but not a lot of people have been killed by them. The propeller can only penetrate your body the distance from the propeller hub to the end of the propeller blade. While propeller strikes from small outboards can be fatal, typically they are not unless the person is struck in the head or femoral artery. It seems a bit odd for someone of Matthew Meinert’s age, athleticism, with his outdoor experience to be struck in the head by this boat propeller unless he was unconscious or trying to save his son, or fell directly onto the propeller. The water is shallow enough in many areas to walk to shore. He may have purposefully tried to stop or board the boat to save his son. His son may have remained in the boat or he may have fallen into the water as well. Matthew may have been trying to stop the boat if Oliver remained in the boat, or he may have been trying to shield him if he fell in the water.
  5. We do note that jon boats are very light compared to similar sized fiberglass boats, and thus when circling unmanned (or with only a child on board) with larger tiller steered outboards at higher throttle they can rare up and run in a very small circle, almost like they are dancing.

  6. Matthew Meinert was not found wearing a life jacket and life jackets were found in the boat. This tends to indicate he did not have one on when he entered the water. It also tends to indicate that if he was out in the middle of a lake in deep open water, he would have had a chance of diving under the boat to escape the propeller. But in this narrow, shallow creek, the boat may have knocked him down in shallow water where he could not get down below the prop. Those wearing life jackets are often unable to dive under an oncoming boat and struck by the propeller in open water.
  7. Its possible he could have willingly departed the vessel to free a fishing lure or a fish in shallow water and left the outboard running at an idle. Then sometime between then and his re-entry to outboard went into gear or was shifted or knocked into gear.
  8. The Medical Examiner said he died after being struck by a propeller which tends to indicate he did not fall in, drown, and get struck by some other boat’s propeller later.
  9. We tried to visually identify a beaching path in the images of the boat on shore, but were unable clearly see a path where the outboard motor ran ashore under power. Similarly, they may have been able to spot Oliver’s footprints in that area, IF so they could indicate Oliver had been in the boat when it came on shore.
  10. We note several images and videos appear to indicate the outboard is to the port (left) side of the transom. It may have been knocked off center when striking a submerged object or when coming ashore.
  11. It sounds like the boat was found within about an hour of when Matthew Meinert and Oliver left the Trophy Club boat ramp. The boat was found a considerable distance from there and they may have stopped along the way leaving less time for travel. If most boaters found an abandoned boat in an “unusual place” and were concerned about those that had been on board, they would put their hand on the motor to see if it was still warm or not. There is no mention of that in the various news reports. We will theorize the motor was still warm due to the relatively short time the boat could have been at rest before it was found, the boaters yelled to try to locate anybody that could have been with the boat, then used the phone found in the boat to try to notify loved ones. Young Oliver was already gone from the boat (if he was in it when it was beached) and did not respond to men he did not know yelling in the woods.
  12. They could have stopped, and beached the boat to fish from shore in an area similar to the one in which the boat was found. Then when relaunching the boat and trying to get off shore, somehow the father was ejected from the boat.
  13. The U.S. 377 bridge that can be seen in some photos taken near the accident site is a large man made obstruction. They may have encountered some debris caught on the bridge or had some other interaction with the bridge that caused Matthew Meinert to enter the water willfully or to be ejected.

Again, every thing we said above regarding possible accident scenarios is total speculation at this point.

There are a lot of unknowns and speculation above. We look forward to the investigators sharing their findings.

The investigators will use the evidence available to draw their conclusions as to what happened.

Below is an News6 (Tulsa Oklahoma) video of a small bass boat in the Circle of Death at full throttle as an example of what a larger, higher horsepower, yet still small boat looks like circling from the air.

Bass Boat in Circle of Death

Bass Boat in Circle of Death - Claremore Lake, Oklahoma

News Coverage

As per many propeller accidents, this one only received local/regional coverage. We would especially like to thank at least three UK media outlets that covered the accident some of them multiple times: Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Mirror.

We also thank several local media outlets for covering the accident.


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