Family pay tribute to adventurous Surrey grandmother who died on Saga cruise after catastrophic fall

Catherine Betty Fitzgerald, known as Betty, was 79 at the time of her death. Credit: BPM Media

A grandmother suffered a “heartbreaking” fatal fall from a coach while on a Saga Cruises holiday in Norway, dying in hospital abroad, after her life support was withdrawn.

Catherine Betty Fitzgerald, known as Betty, was 79 at the time of her death on October 6, 2022.

The grandmother from Farnham in Surrey fell after missing a step at the top of the coach as she exited the vehicle.

The incident occurred during a day excursion to see the Northern Lights at the Norwegian Fjords. Betty hit the back of her head on the concrete quayside and suffered a bleed to her brain as a result of the head injury.

Her death was ruled accidental by coroner Christopher Wilkinson, who found that due to a vision impairment in her left eye and the safety strip at the top of the steps being slightly obscured by the carpet of the coach, Betty misjudged where the step began and ended, thus falling.

Head of Safety, Policy and Assurance, Daniel Mann at Saga cruises told the inquest at Winchester Coroners court on Monday (4 December): “Slips, trips and falls are not uncommon amongst our target age group.

"A safety check was conducted that day, but the checklist could not be located," he added.

The incident occurred during a day excursion to see the Northern Lights at the Norwegian Fjords. Credit: ITV News

Betty's daughter, Pauline Parrott, 57, from Farnham, was critical of the company and claims communication was poor, when she found out about her mum's fall while at home. She says she received a phone call from the UK Saga customer service team who said she could get a flight out to Norway.

She claims the initial caller was not aware of the severity of her mum's fall. It wasn't until she got the number of the hospital in Norway that doctors told her that Betty only had two hours to live.

She said: "I just had to sit and wait for a call to confirm that she hadn't made it. I wouldn't have time to fly out there.

"I felt helpless, it was all so upsetting.

“I think passengers would be shocked by some of the things you think are acceptable. There was a serious lack in communication regarding the severity of her injuries and support for the family. No one would want their parent alone in distress.

"This is all very difficult to understand given the age of their clients and the admission from Saga's Head of Safety that 'slips and trips are commonplace'.

"Mum dying alone is truly heartbreaking, we would have loved to have been by her side when the life support was switched off."

A Saga spokesperson said: “Our thoughts and condolences remain with the family of Mrs Fitzgerald following this tragic accident. We have been fully supportive of the inquest and provided all assistance to the Coroner.”

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At the time, Saga only dispatched a medical representative for those on a cruise for 11 days or more. Therefore, Betty was not eligible to have a member of staff by her side when she travelled to hospital and she died alone after the hospital decided to withdraw life support just three hours after the accident.Coroner Christopher said he did not believe Betty tripped on the scuffed carpet, but he was concerned that the safety strip may have been obscured. Along with her limited vision, she may have anticipated the step to be closer than it was.

He concluded: “My view is that the death was accidental and nothing could have been done.

"It is regrettable that the rep was not able to get off the coach first as they should have done and was not able to be present.

"Given the fact that she fell from the top step I do not believe there is likely much someone could have done being at the bottom of the stairs, and it may have caused them injuries.”

It was recommended by the coroner that a designated seat for representatives is set aside by the exits, so they can get off first. Oral warnings about taking care of the steps should be given every time the bus stops, similar to when disembarking the tube in London, and written signs should be put up.