Tour guide fell to his death ‘photographing a puffin’

Tour guide Jamie Shannon died after falling at cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, as he tried to photograph a puffin. PIC: Cascade News.
Tour guide Jamie Shannon died after falling at cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, as he tried to photograph a puffin. PIC: Cascade News.
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A “happy and popular” tour guide fell 50 metres to his death while trying to photograph a puffin on Orkney.

Jamie Shannon, 23, was leading a group of 14 tourists at the Yesnaby cliffs at the time of the “terrible tragedy”, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) heard this week.

The cliffs at Yesnaby are popular with birdwatchers. PIC: Cascade News.

The cliffs at Yesnaby are popular with birdwatchers. PIC: Cascade News.

An Australian tourist, in a statement to the hearing at Kirkwall Sheriff Court, said Mr Shannon fell after going to see a puffin on a rock stack.

READ MORE: Investigation into death of popular tour guide on Orkney

The woman said: “He [Mr Shannon] went out a bit further than the rest of us to take a photo.

“I heard a noise and turned to see what happened. Jamie was falling down the rocks feet first on his front. Jamie was hitting the rocks.”

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She added: “A few folk tried to get down to him, but it was impossible.”

Another Australian tourist said: “He was in a happy mood, which was usual for him. He was certainly in good spirits.

“We walked for about 20 minutes and then had lunch. Jamie told us to be careful and stay away from the edge.

He pointed out a puffin. I was taking a photo. Jamie put his bag down and walked along the cliff edge to my left.

“I saw Jamie lose his balance and fall forward.”

Her statement added that Mr Shannon landed on the rocks below and there was no sign of movement. His body was then swept out to sea by the waves.

Procurator fiscal depute Geoff Main said the accident took place at around 2pm on 26 June 2017.

Mr Shannon’s body was washed out to sea following the fall and he was recovered by a lifeboat crew member who managed to pull him aboard by his belt.

A paramedic who had been winched onto the lifeboat from the coastguard helicopter pronounced Mr Shannon dead at 3.38pm, Mr Main said.

However, he may have died immediately as a result of his injuries sustained during the fall, according to Mr Main.

Giving evidence, PC William Dingwall, who was on duty in Stromness at the time, said he received a report of a male who had fallen off cliffs around 2.30pm.

He arrived at the scene about ten minutes later, by which time Mr Shannon’s body had been washed 150 metres out to sea.

He told the inquiry that there was no sign the rock had crumbled under Mr Shannon’s feet.

The fiscal depute said that Mr Shannon, from Dunblane, Perthshire was someone with a “passion” for the outdoors.

“He was someone well thought of by all those who came into contact with him, both in a personal and professional capacity,” Mr Main added.

Solicitor Mark Donaldson, representing Mr Shannon’s employers — Haggis Tours, based in Edinburgh — said: “He was a happy, valued and extremely popular member of staff, who is fondly remembered and greatly missed.”

Mr Donaldson said Mr Shannon had conducted approximately 100 tours for the company.

The solicitor added: “He was friendly, cheerful and chatty. He was an extremely competent tour guide.”

Referring to the witness statements, Mr Donaldson continued: “He kept his party together at all times. He was aware of the hazards and gave clear warning to the group not to go too close to the cliff’s edge.

“It would appear, on the basis of the evidence, that Mr Shannon may have become disorientated while taking a photograph with the tragic consequences that followed.”

Addressing members of Mr Shannon’s family, who were present at the inquiry, Sheriff Andrew Berry said: “It seems to me it is very clear that there is no fault to be found or blame to be apportioned in respect of anyone. What occurred was a terrible tragedy.

“I hope hearing the evidence may be of some small comfort to you, in hearing Jamie was held in the highest regard by everyone who knew him.”

Sheriff Berry will issue a written determination at a later date.