Eero Juhani Tolonen

Vessel Name: LFBG 185

Eero Juhani Tolonen
Drowned at Sea; Body never recovered
30 March 1969

Letter from the Consul for Finland in WA

Letter from the Consul for Finland in WA

Eero Juhani Tolonen was born on the 10 June 1927 in Alavieska, Finland. He was single and resided at 5 Abrolhos Street in Geraldton. He had lost a younger brother, Martti, 7 years earlier in another seafaring tragedy near Rat Island. His crayfishing boat, LFBG 185 was 19 feet 8 inches long, and was powered by a petrol motor.

27 year-old Jarmo Kovalainen was employed as Tolonen’s deckhand since the beginning of March 1969 and resided on Rat Island. They both left Rat Island on Tolonen’s boat at about 6 am on the 30 March 1969 to go to West Reef, which is about 5 miles from Rat Island, to pull their craypots. West Reef is about 10 miles long, the water on top of the reef is only about 6 feet deep and it drops away to about 120 feet of water on the outside. They had 16 craypots set around the reef.

A big sea was running at the time and very big breakers were breaking over the reef. After pulling 15 of the craypots they were proceeding to the last one when they were struck by a larger breaker that broke over the front of the boat, breaking the wheelhouse windows and filling the boat with water. It washed both Kovalainen and Tolonen off the boat into the water. Tolonen could not swim and at the time of the incident was wearing a heavy shirt, shorts and a pair of yellow plastic waterproof trousers. The boat did not sink as it was fitted with regulation flotation material.

When Kovalainen surfaced he swam back to the boat and got aboard. He saw Tolonen about 30 yards away calling for help and trying to swim. Kovalainen removed his heavy trousers, obtained a life jacket from the boat and swam over to Tolonen. When he reached Tolonen he found that he was just drifting and was not making any movement or speaking. Froth was coming from Tolonen’s nose and mouth. Kovalainen got a hold of Tolonen and swam with him back to the boat but could not get him aboard as he was too heavy. Kovalainen obtained a piece of rope that was hanging over the side of the boat. He put the rope around Tolonen and was in the act of tying a knot when a second breaker struck the boat causing it to overturn. When Kovalainen surfaced he could not see Tolonen and did not see him again. Kovalainen climbed on to the upturned boat and was washed off it another three times before being rescued by another Fisherman, after drifting around for three to four hours.

At about 11am Mott was out near West Reef where he had some craypots set in his crayfishing boat Paolina. Mott came alongside the upturned boat and got Kovalainen aboard. One of his deckhands then dived in the water and secured a towline to the boat and Mott subsequently towed it back to Rat Island. He informed other boats in the area by radio as to the mishap, and 5 or 6 boats attended to search the area for Tolonen. They continued the search in the ensuing days during their routine crayfishing trips but found no trace of Tolonen.

Auno (Uuno) Arvid Tolonen, Eero’s older brother accepted responsibility for his brother’s property and he had Tolonen’s boat towed back to Geraldton. Auno notified his parents in Finland of the circumstances surrounding the loss of his brother.

Constable Lindsay George Smith investigated the matter and concluded, ‘As a result of my inquiries it is apparent that Tolonen, an experienced fisherman, undertook a grave risk in going close to West reef in the weather and sea conditions which were prevailing at the time’.