Collins inquest flags inexperience, solo ascent

Willie Collins of Lower Hutt drowned while diving off the coast of Wellington in 2015. Photo / Supplied
Willie Collins of Lower Hutt drowned while diving off the coast of Wellington in 2015. Photo / Supplied

A Wellington man who drowned while scuba diving at Lyall Bay in 2015 may have died because of his inexperience, a coroner has said.

William Tou Collins, cousin of late All Black Jerry Collins, drowned while ascending to the surface after diving with friends at Sharktooth Point on December 20, 2015.

Coroner Tim Scott said if Collins' friends had stayed with him the whole time and not left him to return to shore by himself, Collins might not have died.

The 39-year-old personal trainer was not a qualified diver, but had been free diving most of his life.

The friends he went diving with on that day, Wade Summers and Apakuki Soro (Kuki), were both experienced scuba divers. Normally when the friends went diving, one of them would check Collins' equipment, but it was not clear if they had done so this time.

"Kuki said that the air tanks which the group were using had each been filled with 200 bars of air, which was standard for that size of tank," Scott said in his report.

"The plan that day was to swim on the surface to Sharktooth Point, which is about 200m from the shore. When they arrived, they would descend about 9m looking for koura and kina.

Police National Dive Squad Senior Constable Paul Ferguson concluded in a report that Collins appeared to have consumed his entire air supply before reaching the surface, but without proper training he failed to recognise this, and did not ditch his weight belt and catch bag to help himself to the surface.

"Kuki said that he believed this dive was within Willie's capabilities. He had dived to that depth before but mostly he had not swum out that distance."

The group's plan was to use about 150 bars of air before ascending, allowing a safety margin of 25 per cent of air in their tanks.

"Once the three commenced the dive Wade parted company from Kuki and Willie and he completed the dive and the return to shore on his own. In my view he should not have done so. All three should have remained together throughout the dive. Had he remained with Willie and Kuki, it is possible that the tragedy would not have happened."

After about 20 minutes, Kuki checked his air gauge and there was about 150 bars. He checked Collins' gauge and discovered it was already down to 50 bars.

He indicated Collins needed to ascend and head back to shore.

"That is where things began to go wrong."

Kuki indicated to Collins where the North Point on his compass was. They were at that time in about 6m of water.

"He said that Willie gave him a thumbs up signal which indicated to him that Willie understood that he should return to the shore. Kuki watched him swim away to the North, the direction of the shore, ascending as he swam. Kuki felt that Willie was safe and carried on with his dive."

Scott said Kuki should have instead accompanied Collins back to shore.

"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. Had all three divers remained together or at least two of the divers remained together, Willie and one of the others, I believe it is highly probable that the tragedy would not have happened."

When Kuki and Summers returned to shore, they soon discovered Collins had not surfaced. Another friend alerted the Coast Guard while Summers and Kuki began to search for him.

Kuki discovered Collins lying on the bottom of the seabed in about four or five metres of water.

They were able to unbuckle Collins' weight belt and bring him to the surface where he was taken to the shore and CPR was administered, "but sadly he was deceased".

Police National Dive Squad Senior Constable Paul Ferguson concluded in a report that Collins appeared to have consumed his entire air supply before reaching the surface, but without proper training he failed to recognise this, and did not ditch his weight belt and catch bag to help himself to the surface.

"I do not know why Willie had used up so much more air that Kuki or Wade," Scott said.

"It may have been because he was less experienced. Senior Constable Ferguson stated in his report that fatigue and a moderately narrowed coronary artery, found at post-mortem, may have contributed to rapid consumption of air."

Scott found Collins died as a result of drowning.

Senior Constable Paul Ferguson's safety recommendations for divers:

● Complete recognised training courses and dive within dive experience and qualifications

● Do a dive medical prior to learning to dive, and undergo regular dive medical checks, especially with any changes in health or medications

● Be familiar with the equipment being used

● Be aware of practice emergency drills

● Conduct buoyancy checks to ensure they are neutrally buoyant prior to leaving the surface

● Ditch weight belt and catch bag when in difficulty

● Scuba divers should always dive with a pair of fins. In the event of a loss, use the buddy system to make a safe ascent

● Be proficient in the use of their BCD and inflate the BCD on the surface so they can remain afloat

● Monitor air supply during the dive

● Plan to be on the surface and remain on the surface with 50Bar remaining

● Dive with a buddy, and stay in close contact throughout the entire dive

● Ensure equipment is regularly serviced

● Catch bags should not be attached to the diver

● End dives if equipment is suspect or fails

● Equipment such as regulators, BCD, cylinders should be serviced and inspected yearly

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 29 Mar 2017 23:41:43 Processing Time: 390ms