Unqualified diver ran out of air on shallow ascent

archive – Diving NewsUnqualified diver ran out of air on shallow ascent

A New Zealand coroner has pronounced a verdict of drowning on a man who was unqualified as a scuba diver but used open-circuit equipment to dive in Lyall Bay, Wellington in December, 2015 – but has suggested that the death could have been prevented.

Coroner Tim Scott said that if the two friends of Willie Collins had not separated from him, the 39-year-old boxing and fitness coach might still be alive, according to a report in the NZ Herald.

Collins’ friends Wade Summers and Apakuki Soro were both experienced scuba-divers. Soro said he had believed Collins to be capable of the shore-dive because he was a freediver and had been to the planned maximum depth of 9m before.

It was unclear whether a buddy-check had been carried out, but according to Soro all three divers carried single cylinders filled with air to 200bar. Their plan was to surface-swim the 200m from shore to a site called Sharktooth Point and dive to 9m to collect crayfish and sea urchins. On reaching 50 bar each man was to ascend and swim back to shore with his catch.

Summers separated from the others on completing his dive and returned to shore alone. When Soro checked his contents gauge after about 20 minutes while at a depth of 6m he found about 150 bar left, but seeing that Collins was already down to 50 bar he signalled for him to ascend and head back to shore, indicating the direction on his compass.

He reported that Collins had given him a thumbs-up signal, which he took to mean that he understood. He watched him swim away towards the shore, ascending as he went and, feeling that he was safe, continued his dive.

When Soro joined Summers ashore they realised that Collins had not surfaced. Another friend alerted the Coast Guard while the two divers returned to Sharktooth Point, where Soro found Collins on the seabed at a depth of 4-5m. The divers removed his weightbelt, brought him to the surface and towed him ashore where CPR was administered, but it was too late.

According to a report by Police National Dive Squad Senior Constable Paul Ferguson, Collins appeared to have used all his air before reaching the surface and, being untrained, had failed to check his contents gauge or ditch his weight-belt and catch-bag.

The report stated that Collins’ rapid air consumption could be attributed to lack of  experience but that fatigue after the surface-swim and a moderately narrowed coronary artery found at post-mortem might have been contributory factors.

“The divers should not have separated and Willie, who was the least experienced, should not have been left to his own devices to reach the shore,” stated the report. Had at least two of the divers remained together, Ferguson said he believed it “highly probable that the tragedy would not have happened”.

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