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February 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 26, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Who’s Responsible for a Diver’s Death?

In the U.S., there’s no clear-cut way to assign proper blame to guilty parties

from the February, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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As many as 100 American divers die annually. That means the U.S has many more dive-related deaths than, say, the United Kingdom or Australia. We do a better job - at least an equal job - of investigating and explaining dive-related deaths compared with those countries? And are we better at assigning blame to the parties that deserve it?

A recent case involving the death of a British diver brought those questions to mind about whether methods used overseas should be adopted here. Back in April 2005, Thomas Young, a 24-year-old British diver died during an open water certification dive with Jurassic Coast Diving. While diving at 95 feet on the WWI wreck Bretagnem, Young signaled to his instructor and another diver that he had a regulator problem. After grabbing one of the diver's octopus regulators, Young still had problems breathing, panicked and pulled off his instructor's mask. After she pushed him away, Young sank to the bottom, and his body was never recovered.

An inquest with a jury was held to investigate Young's death. The Health and Safety Executive found that Jurassic Coast Diving failed to properly assemble and maintain its dive equipment. After pleading guilty, the dive operator was fined US$9,400, and ordered by the court to pay additional costs of US$9,700. It was all public information, and written about in local newspapers.

Australians are investigating the drowning of a novice Chinese diver and the dive instructor held responsible for her death. Xia Dai, 20, drowned in April 2009 while taking a dive course off Queensland's Wave Break Island with instructor Yuri Bonning. While PADI investigated the death and failed to take any disciplinary action, police detectives charged Bonning with manslaughter. At the hearing in October 2010, police prosecutor Reece Foort told the court that Bonning failed in her duty as a dive instructor by not adequately briefing or instructing Dai, especially because weather conditions were poor, and letting Dai dive overweighted and with a faulty regulator. The next hearing will be in May. ...

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