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Coroner tells jury of manslaughter option after death of Telegraph man
By David Sapsted in Andros, Bahamas
(Filed: 18/07/2003)


The failure of two instructors to provide proper supervision during a press dive in the Caribbean led to the drowning of one of The Daily Telegraph's most senior reporters, a coroner has ruled.

A jury in the Bahamas recorded an open verdict at the end of an inquest into the death of David Graves, which happened a year ago.

After three hearings spanning nine months the coroner, William Campbell, had made the recommendation that there was "no doubt" that the jury should consider a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of the gross negligence displayed by the supervisors at the dive centre.

In the end, the jury voted four-three in favour of the open verdict.

Mr Graves, 50, who had reported from all over the world in his 20 years as a Telegraph reporter, drowned when he ran out of air during a press trip in July last year with five other journalists to explore dive sites off the little-developed Bahamian island of Andros.

Nobody noticed that Mr Graves, from Ealing, west London, the married father of two young boys, was missing from the underwater group, even when all the others were back on board the dive boat from the Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros.

The "buddy" system - the basic international safety system under which divers go underwater in pairs so that partners can offer assistance in emergencies - was not in force for the dive during which Mr Graves died.

Instead, two "dive masters" from the Small Hope Bay Lodge, who were in charge of the underwater excursion last July 8 to watch sharks being fed, said the party would dive as a group. The group split up after the sharks had been fed and Mr Graves's body was found, partially lodged in a reef 47ft down, more than a quarter-hour after the rest had returned to the dive boat.

"Was it that Mr Graves was merely careless?" asked Mr Campbell, summing up at the end of the inquest in the tiny courthouse in Fresh Creek, Andros. "Or was it that there was a disregard for the life and safety of David Graves?

"The dive masters, in their own words, had a responsibility for the safety of the divers: they had a duty of care towards them. I think it was a breach of that duty of care."

Mr Campbell was critical of the fact that it was one of the other journalists - not either of the dive masters - who finally noticed that Mr Graves was not back on board the boat.

He also questioned evidence from Mike Hornby, 46, and Matthew Kammann, 22, the two dive masters, that Mr Graves had been seen at the anchor line, preparing to return to the boat, because other divers had insisted that he was nowhere in sight at that time. Additionally, the coroner emphasised that many of the journalists were inexperienced divers - Mr Graves himself had completed only 10 previous dives - and that, while the diving was meant to be fun, there was no excuse for laxness in safety procedures.

"Everything comes back to the dive masters' responsibilities," said Mr Campbell. "In a group-type dive, there is greater responsibility on their shoulders. If their attention had not lapsed, could they have intervened and prevented the sequence of drowning that followed?"
Offering the jury the option of returning a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of gross negligence, Mr Campbell admitted that, at the outset of the case, he had doubted that such a verdict would be possible. "But after reading 600 pages of evidence, there is no doubt that it does arise," he said.

Mr Graves's widow Diana, who was represented at the inquest by a Nassau attorney, Godfrey "Pro" Pinder, flew to the Bahamas to attend all sessions of the inquest as the jury heard evidence from the Small Hope Bay Lodge diving staff, the surviving British journalists, and police, tourism and medical officials.

"I feel that the evidence heard by the inquest, the coroner's summing up and the jury's verdict have vindicated my belief that David should never have died and that our two sons, Nathan and Oliver, were so needlessly deprived of their father," she said afterwards. "I still miss him terribly."
 

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What a tragic and unnecessary loss of life. I said when this first occured that redundent air supply should be standard training at OW level and I say it again. No one should ever die in recreational depth scuba from simply running out of gas.

If you cant rely on the experianced dive master to look after you how can you rely on a less experianced buddy diver.

I hope the dive masters involved are never allowed to lead a dive again.

Mark Chase
 

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Aye Mark,

But this sounds like a journo-travel-junket gone sadly wrong. It also sounds like some/most of these journo's were not anywhere near experienced divers (and by that, I mean that it sounds like this was, for the large part at least, a bunch of journo's on a 'try dive'!)

Having dived the Bahamas, I'm aware that Nassua (the capitol) has a pot, but Andros, FFS! You get bent or DCI'd out there and your travelling time to get to a pot puts you in world of hurt!
 

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Six divers, two DMs... Given the assumed good visibility in such waters,I don't think it's too much to expect these DM guys to monitor the air consumption of three presumably qualified but inexperienced divers, you can't get a more basic responsibility than checking air supplies.

Having said that I don't see myself taking three inexperienced divers into the water anytime soon, two is more than enough, but I imagine these dive guides perhaps don't have the same freedom to make their own decisions.
 

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Having worked as a padi instructor, I know that if you don't want to lead a dive because of it is not safe, there may be a pressure from your employer to do it or he'll find someone who will. I once ran a DSD class of 18 with 2 other instructors and it was a mare.

Then it was 6 DSD to each instructor, then padi changed it to 4. My partner, Liz, called it "hearding sheep in 3 dimensions" and she was not far wrong!

Whatever is said on the matter, it is a very sad day when a fellow diver is lost. I always feel a sadness in my soul when I read about.

Stay safe people & always always always remember your limits.

Chris
 

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They wernt all newbys. One of the divers was John Bateman of of Divermag.


Seriously last time i was in the Red Sea I asked to dive twins beacuas my pony couldent be filled before the first day of diving. They smiled at me like I was an idiot and tried to talk me out of it.

The whole atitude to redundent air supply is wrong. even in the clear blue stuff things can go wrong.

Mark Chase
 

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Have to say that there are many folks out there that scoff at me as I enter the green Scottish waters for a 15m dive avec pony.

I have a son and a wife who need me.  I also love diving. You figure the maths.

My heart goes out to anyone who loses a loved one.  Period.  It is doubly tragic when it happens in a sport we love.  It is, after all, just a sport.  Unfortunately it also places a lot of responsibility on those who practice the sport as a profession. It is never easy to figure out what has happened after the fact.  Two sides to every story etc.

I do believe, however, that as a diver you do have a duty to yourself to practice safe diving.

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