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July 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lawsuit over Diver Death on San Diego’s Yukon

from the July, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The owners and employees of Oceanside Scuba and Swim Center in Oceanside, CA, as well as the San Diego dive boat Humboldt, are being sued for the wrongful death of Staci Jackson, 26, a Marine based at Camp Pendleton. On December 1, 2012, she and four other divers were exploring the HMCS Yukon shipwreck, two miles west of Mission Beach. Jackson failed to surface. Hours later, her body was found in a crevice of the Yukon wreck.

Jackson's mother has filed a lawsuit, saying the organizers of the dive trip share the blame for her daughter's death. Her attorney, Jim Frantz, says an ocean surge pushed Jackson either into her dive partner or into the hull of the Yukon, and knocked her unconscious. Frantz says the dive boat operator and diving instructors should have called off the dive because the surf and swells were much too big for a safe dive. "It was seven- to 12-foot surf," Frantz told NBC 7 in San Diego. "Extremely heavy surge. Extremely hazardous. Two other boating companies refused to go out, it was too dangerous. And this was a novice diver they took down to the bottom."

Veteran diver Neal Matthews, who helped establish the Yukon for diving 13 years ago, agrees that diving there can be very dangerous. He told NBC 7, "I dove it twice, and after the second dive, I said 'Never again.'" He's not surprised that at least three other divers never returned alive from the Yukon. "The surge rushes into those holes and causes all kinds of swirling and strange currents," Matthews says. "On a bad day, you can really get slammed up against a bulkhead."

While a representative from Oceanside Scuba declined to comment about the lawsuit, Ryan Wilbarger, the Humboldt captain, insists that he and his company did nothing wrong. Wilbarger says he warned Jackson and the other divers to surface immediately if the waters were unsafe, and that December 1 was "not a bad day" for diving. The allegations in the negligence lawsuit are "absolutely asinine," and in his words, "a complete fabrication." Wilbarger says the lawsuit is nothing more than a financial "shakedown" that will damage San Diego's diving industry.

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