The dangers of going into Northland's seas when under-prepared or beyond your capabilities have been highlighted by the region's coroner after the preventable drownings of two Auckland men within six weeks of each other.
Coroner Brandt Shortland has found that Aucklanders Glen Mathison Taylor, 37, a St John communications manager and Hui Jin, 47, a cafe owner, both drowned in Northland waters: Mr Taylor while diving on November 17, 2001, and Mr Jin while putting out crab pots on Christmas Day, 2011.
Mr Shortland found both deaths could have been prevented and, in relation to Mr Taylor's, made a number of recommendations that divers: remain familiar with their equipment and emergency procedures before use; abandon weights and/or inflate their buoyancy control device (BCD) when in trouble; end their dive with at least 50 bar of air remaining; should end their dive if they become separated from their dive buddy.
Mr Taylor was diving with friends near Moturua Island, in the Bay of Islands, and during a dive to get crayfish got separated from his dive buddy. Mr Taylor ascended to the surface briefly and tried to get the attention of people on the dive boat, who saw that he was distressed and in trouble. Another diver removed his weight belt and snorkelled around the area looking for Mr Taylor. Police arrived and his body was found on the ocean floor.
A toxicology report found there were no issues with alcohol, medication or illicit drugs in his system.
The Police National Dive Squad examined Mr Taylor's dive gear and other factors in relation to his death and found that the dive equipment used by Mr Taylor, most of which was in excellent or new condition, had not contributed to his death, with the possible exception of the air cylinder and mask.
The mask had one of its lenses missing, and while it was unable to be determined when this had happened, including possibly during recovering his body, if it had been underwater it would have no doubt caused panic and stress leading to other problems, Mr Shortland said.
"Mr Taylor was recovered with 15 bar left in his cylinder. He had effectively depleted his air.
The increased effort to breath through his regulator would have increased his stress," the coroner found.
"Further inference suggests the equipment did not contribute to Mr Taylor's death because two basic safety procedures had not been carried out that may have made a difference in saving Mr Taylor's life: the dumping of his weight belt and the inflating of his BCD to make himself buoyant when he first came to the surface." Mr Shortland said Mr Taylor's death could have been prevented by good diving practices. Mr Jin was with others from Auckland on Uretiti Beach on Christmas Day, 2011, and was in the water setting crab pots when family and friends saw him and some associates struggling to get back to shore. There was no real concerns for him at that stage, but in less than a minute the situation turned "extremely serious".
"Mr Jin clearly got into a situation that was beyond his ability to keep himself safe and he has drowned," Mr Shortland found.
"This is a reminder of not going beyond one's capabilities when enjoying the sea and associated activities. It is also a reminder of how tragedy can strike so quickly."