Captain McLaughlin and other members of the Ocean Shores Police and Fire Departments were conducting personal watercraft training at a local beach. Classroom training was completed in the morning and the class moved to the beach at approximately 1220hrs. Captain McLaughlin was wearing a helmet, a personal flotation device, and other safety equipment.
At approximately 1515hrs, Captain McLaughlin was acting as the passenger in a watercraft operated by another firefighter. The watercraft was hit by a rogue wave, it rolled over, and both firefighters were dumped into the water.
An instructor hovering nearby in another watercraft came to the side of Captain McLaughlin, who had drifted away from his watercraft. Captain McLaughlin advised the instructor that he was too tired to pull himself into the back of the instructor's watercraft. Captain McLaughlin was provided with a flotation device, but lost control of the device when he reached for the instructor's watercraft.
Captain McLaughlin rolled over onto his face. The instructor entered the water, found Captain McLaughlin to be unconscious, and pulled him to the shore. Firefighters on the beach and an off-duty nurse immediately began to provide medical care. An ambulance arrived on the scene and Captain McLaughlin was transported to the hospital. He was transported to a regional care facility by aircraft later in the day.
Captain McLaughlin died on March 22, 2006, at 0019hrs as a result of near-drowning complications.