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Quoted from Divernet:

" Divernet News, dateline 31 August 2003
Inquest into diver's death provokes confusion over safety standards
A verdict of misadventure at the inquest into death of a qualified diver who died after inhaling his own vomit at St Abbs in April 2001, has provoked confusion over appropriate safety standards for recreational dives.

48-year-old John Hawkins from Birchencliffe near Huddersfield died after surfacing from a 22m dive at St Abbs in April 2001. He was conscious at the surface, but collapsed into unconsciousness while waiting for the approach of the diveboat. He was rushed to shore where paramedics spent 30 minutes trying to resuscitate him. A post mortem later revealed that he had suffocated on his own vomit.

Hawkins had qualified as a PADI openwater diver while abroad a month prior to the incident. He contacted Seadog Diving Club in Fartown on his return to take up diving in the UK and was planning to take an Advanced Open Water qualification, but he was not under instruction at the time of the incident.

The fatal incident occured after Hawkins third dive at St Abbs. He was buddied with a more experienced PADI Rescue diver, and was dropped into 8m of water close to the shore. Hawkins' dive computer showed that the two men conducted their dive, working their way gradually to a depth of 22m before ascending to the surface to await collection by the diveboat. Sea conditions on the day were calm, and the sun was shining.

Hawkins had kept his regulator in his mouth on the surface but appeared to collapse face down in the water as the boat approached. He was recovered into the boat and the emergency services summoned. His dive equipment was taken by the police and found to be in working order.

Hawkins had borrowed a drysuit from the dive centre, after completing pool training in the use of the suit. He had successfully completed two sea dives with the suit without incident, but there was speculation at the inquest that it may have leaked.

The HSE investigated the death shortly afterward, but made no criticism of the PADI dive operation and appeared not find any lapse of safety procedure that would warrant their intervention. The HSE recognise that the standard of supervision required for recreational diving by qualified divers differs from the standard required for trainees on a course.

However, ScotSAC diver Ian Neilson, the expert witness appointed by the Scottish Procurator Fiscal, made a series of criticisms of the dive operation. He asserted that St Abbs is not a suitable diving location for inexperienced divers and that Hawkins had been inadequately trained and supervised for the type of dive being undertaken.

Coroner Mr David Hinchliff was quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner as saying "This was a serious expedition and he (Hawkins) should have received correct and expert diving tuition in all the circumstances."

PADI's website describes the PADI openwater qualification in the following way As a certified PADI Open Water Diver, the most widely recognized and respected rating in the world, you have the freedom to dive with a buddy independent of a professional. Jill Atkinson, of Sub Aqua Divers (Scoutscroft) which is based at St Abbs told Divernet that St Abbs is a safe place for trainee and inexperienced divers. "People have been doing their PADI qualifications from this centre for 10 years. Every weekend dozens of clubs and schools bring newly qualified divers here to dive. I cannot understand why anyone would describe it as unsuitable for newly qualified PADI openwater divers."

Barry Whiteley, PADI instructor at Sea Dog Club told Divernet that he was totally confused by the misadventure verdict. "I don't see that there is anything that I could have done differently. He was a qualified openwater diver, buddied with someone more experienced, and conducting his own dive. He seemed fine on the surface and then he collapsed unexpectedly. It is a tragedy, but I don't believe that anyone is to blame." "


I thought I'd post this as a few of us on YD are familiar with Seadog dive centre in Huddersfield and Barrie Whiteley in particular. This is a sad verdict to reach in my opinion - I was a member of Seadog dive club at the time of this tragedy and, although not present on this trip, I was friendly with many of those who were on the trip. I know that this will have hurt Barrie intensely as he has relived this incident again and again and still cannot see what he could have done differently. Having trained with Seadog right up to Divemaster I cannot stress enough how much Seadog follow the HSE rules to the letter and I cannot make sense of this verdict - it seems that, yet again, divers and dive operations are being made a scapegoat by a judicial system that feels justice cannot be seen to have been done without apportioning blame (albeit in this case by passing a verdict of misadventure). While all our sympathies must surely go to the family of the diver involved, I cannot help but feel that this places an unnecessary slur on a dive instructor I know is impeccable in his dive planning and trip organisation. I know that I will be speaking to Barrie tomorrow to give him my wholehearted support and urge those of you know also know Barrie and the others at Seadog to do the same.
 

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Jay

This does seem very harsh, as does the "experts" view, (although i have never dived the site). Looking at the facts shown i would have to agree with your sentiments totally.

Is this possibly a case of interagency issues clouding a view?

Possibly some other agencies experts would have given a similar "opinion" where as others would have had a different perspective.

Regards

Paul
 

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This article would appear to concur with the dive operation, in regards to being suitable for traineees and upwards.

It also appears to me that the site had nothing to do with the events that unfolded. My verdict - a unfair verdict from the Coroner, seemingly influenced by the expert witness.

Adrian
 

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Paul, in answer to your question regarding St Abbs - I don't know. In my experience St Abbs offers unparalleled opportunities for a diver to get used to UK conditions in relative safety. Low currents and safe diving shelves are abundant in many St Abbs locations. This was an unfortunate tragedy that, in my opinion, was 'just one of those things'. I don't know why the SSAC diver said as he did because I cannot think of anywhere better in the UK to take divers to learn about UK diving.
 

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Just to give views on St Abbs. This is the site we choose to take our new divers for their 1st sea dives.
They have however had a full winter in the pool doing drills, and several open water dives in Crummock water.
This is mainly due to geography. If we lived nearer St Abbs I expect we would start open water there.
There are safe sites there, Seagull rock etc, and other shore dives. Boat dives into 20m we would leave for a while.
These are our trainees however, I am not refering to qualified divers.
Great sympathy to those involved.
Malcolm------Scotsac 2nd class.
 

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Guys

Well locations tend to dictate training sites, ours obviuosly do the pool, then lake work, but then will get a shallow boat dive generally (Weymouth ideally which will be several, but often just Herne Bay) before getting into the water off Dover. We are very short on shore dives around here.

We find most if not all cope with a bit deeper but reasonable vis far better than shallow with c**p vis. Part of the DO/ Instructor / student agreement on progression and getting it done.

Dive Safe

Paul
 

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I agree but the points to note in this case are:

1. The diver was NOT under instruction
2. This was his 3rd dive at St Abbs that weekend (day 2)
3. He was a qualified OW diver who had experience of sea conditions (albeit not in the UK but conditions were excellent on that day as the coroners report confirmed)

To be honest it is making me a bit wary of organising YD trips because as an instructor (and with other instructors on the trips we organise) does this leave us open to litigation?
 

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Jay

Same with me as DO of a BSAC branch i can take out guest divers and they dive as per their qual. But what do i know about them? I have a chat, look at their qual and get on with it. Generally they dive with me, but sometimes i have inexperienced divers belonging to the club i need to look after.

As Yourself and Adrian have summerised this dive was all within the guidelines. If the poor guy had been sick in his bed a few hours later would it have had the same verdict? Not wishing to demine the tragedy but it seems to be a very strange conclusion.

Dive Safe

Paul
 

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Are OW divers qualified to 22mtrs?

Peter
 

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This is the site I picked for my wifes first ever UK dive so obviously I'd consider it safe. I'm surprised at the coroners verdict especially in light of the HSE's view on the diving operation. Having had experience of so called expert witness in my professional life they never cease to amaze me with some of their ascertions. I'd be interested to know what his qualifications and his diving experience were.

As far as I'm aware the Expert is SSAC diver not a SSAC spokesperson, hopefully SSAC will issue a statement to clarify this. SSAC have in the past and doubtless will in the future plan SSAC Diver Training Weekends at St Abbs.

Personally I feel very sorry for all concerned, both the unfortunate diver and those involved with the dive school. My sympathies to all involved


Jim - SSAC Regional Coach
 

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<font color='#000F22'>I use St Abbs probably more often than anybody I know and certainly feel that there are many training sites suitable for novices.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that in low current conditions there aren't many sites around St Abbs Head that are particularly difficult.

If the guy was OW qualified then he exceeded his depth restriction. I doubt if this was the cause of death or contributed to it anymore than if he had been at 18m.

I will continue to dive with novices around St Abbs as it's one of the best places to safely get people used to sea diving as long as weather/current conditions are good - I'm also sure that many SSAC clubs will have their unqualified divers out at Abbs doing their qualification dives.

A very sad story for everyone concerned.
 

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What came out in the coroner's report but wasn't reported in either the press or Divernet is that the two divers were going down an incline from 8m. A slight current at depth was taking them down the incline and when they realised it had taken them to 22m they decided to abort the dive rather than try to go back up the incline against the current. In my mind this is the right decision to make - lets face it, in real life is is easy to suddenly get taken down 3 or 4 metres in a very short period of time.
 
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