A diving instructor who led a Stoney Cove rebreather training dive on which his student drowned has been sentenced, after a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found him responsible for multiple failings.
Technical instructor Lance Palmer, who runs LP Diving & Marine Services of Penkridge, Staffs, pleaded guilty at Leicester Magistrates' Court on 25 January to breaching the Health & Safety at Work Act. He was ordered to carry out 50 hours of unpaid work and pay £3,085 costs.
The fatal incident occurred in June 2018 when Palmer was supervising 55-year-old Roger Clarke, an experienced open-circuit diver from Stafford. They were conducting an entry-level TDI Closed Circuit Rebreather course at the Leicestershire inland dive-site.
Palmer had serviced the rebreather Clarke was using. According to the course requirements the training dive should have been no deeper than 30m, but the instructor and a safety diver took Clarke down to the Sump, at 35m the deepest point in Stoney Cove.
While at this depth Clarke’s rebreather issued audible and visual warnings calling for him to bail out onto open circuit – which Palmer for a time failed to notice.
Clarke eventually bailed out but then fell unconscious, and the other two divers were said to have failed in their bid to bring him to the surface. They spent another five minutes at maximum depth with Clarke, and by the time he had been brought to the surface he was found to have drowned.
The HSE found that in planning and managing the dive Palmer had failed to adequately maintain and check Clarke’s rebreather, or to remain close enough to monitor him on the dive and notice when his alarms were activated.
Palmer had also contravened TDI course rules by exceeding maximum diving depths on repeat dives, and had failed to use an adequately qualified rescue diver.
Leicester City & South Leicestershire Coroner Ivan Cartwright concluded that Palmer and the safety diver’s errors and omissions had significantly increased the risks of the dive and might have caused, or contributed, to Clarke’s death.
The diver’s widow Angela Clarke said in a family impact statement that from the day her husband died: “I cannot get into water, not even a bath, and I can’t put my face into a shower… I lost my world and reason to live and all I wanted to do was curl up and die and to be with my husband… I have only one regret in my life, not being with my husband when he died.”
“Technical diving is a high-risk activity where student divers are totally reliant on their instructors,” HSE Inspector Richard Martins told press after the hearing.
“This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of Lance Palmer to plan, manage and conduct his diving training in accordance with the law and his training agency’s rules.”
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