British dive-pro came to the rescue in Malta

PADI Course Director Marcus Kitching-Howe
British Course Director Marcus Kitching-Howe

A British PADI Course Director has emerged as a hero of the incident in which a Dutch scuba diver died and a number of other shore-divers had to be rescued in Malta last week.

Marcus Kitching-Howe, 31 and originally from Swainby in North Yorkshire, runs the PADI 5* instructor development centre ABC Diving Malta, located in St Paul’s Bay in the north of the island. He has been based in Malta for the past eight years after moving there from the Bahamas, where he had worked as a shark-feeder trainer.

Kitching-Howe helped a number of divers to get out of unusually rough seas off Cirkewaa, and tried to save the life of a stricken 45-year-old man who later died, according to a report by the Times Of Malta.

Force six south-westerly winds with gusts up to gale force had been forecast for the afternoon of 26 March, though a yellow warning went out only at around 12.30-1pm. By that time many divers were only just starting to surface, and encountering increasingly high waves.

Cirkewwa on the island of Malta (Jose A)
Cirkewwa (Jose A)

“There were no concerns to carry out a dive in the morning, as the wind was forecast to increase that afternoon,” said Kitching-Howe, who had taken a client out to dive the popular wreck of the Rozi tug but had made sure to be out of the water shortly after mid-day..

However, he could see that as the wind was growing stronger, the resulting choppy sea was making it difficult for other divers to climb out at the rocky exit points.

The instructor, who had noted vehicles from three or four other dive-centres in the car park, estimated that there were still 25 to 30 divers in the water as he packed up ready to leave the site.

Back into the sea

Kitching-Howe fetched a 12m rope which he tied to a handrail and left to trail in the water for use as a grabline. He then kitted up again and re-entered the sea, where he stayed for the next half-hour, helping some 10 divers to exit using the grabline as the sea conditions continued to worsen.

At this point he warned other divers to get clear of the rocks and out into open water, where it would be easier for the rescue boats known to be on their way to pick them up.

Then he realised that a diver already near the rocks was waving and calling for help while trying to keep another diver afloat and on his back. Kitching-Howe made his way over to them and started giving rescue breaths to the unresponsive diver, who was wearing only one fin.

When an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) rescue boat arrived, the instructor was able to help get the two divers onboard. The Dutch diver he had tried to help was later declared dead. Kitching-Howe then finned over to another group of divers and stayed with them until a boat was able to pick them up.

The police reported that as they arrived at Cirkewaa four divers made it to safety but 14 others of mixed nationalities and different groups remained missing. It took two to three hours to locate and pick them all up using rescue boats and an AFM helicopter. Three were taken to hospital but were not reported to be in danger.

Positive note

Some local divers later expressed concern to the Times Of Malta about the numbers of diving decision-makers who pressed ahead with plans to dive the Rozi in the worsening weather conditions.

“I feel the consequences of some people’s decisions that day will harm the diving industry as a whole,” Kitching-Howe told the paper. “On a positive note, there were many divers who made correct decisions that day and got out of the water before the waves increased.

“There are so many diving centres that do things correctly and safely, and this accident cannot undo the good work they do.”

Of his own contribution, Kitching-Howe said: “I was doing the things I’ve been trained to do and I made sure to not let my emotions take over.”

The police, who attended the incident along with AFM and Civil Protection Department officers, have stated that they are investigating the events at Cirkewaa. A magistrate’s enquiry is also underway.

Also on Divernet: Diver dies, 17 rescued at windy Malta shore-dive site, A taste of German WW2 metal off Malta, Heritage Malta adds three plane wrecks, Malta sub dives sink conspiracy theory

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