A diver wearing heavy equipment stumbles on the deck of a dive boat. In the fall a stage cylinder valve hits his abdomen and he sustains a blunt force trauma. He falls to the deck. After getting back on his feet, the diver makes a positive indication to the boat crew that he wishes to continue and dive. He enters the water. But only few minutes into the dive he becomes distressed and loses consciousness. He cannot be resuscitated.
On 14 August 2012 Lex Warner was about to conduct a technical dive off the Scottish coast. He was diving a rebreather and bailout stages and whilst he was crossing the deck of the dive boat, he stumbled, fell forwards and landed heavily on the deck. He went down on his knees, then onto his hands, before rolling onto his side and finally onto his back. Having been helped back to his feet by the boat’s crew, Lex Warner was reported to have expressed frustration and annoyance at himself for falling.
Chosing to carry on
Lex Warner was asked if he wanted to dive, and he positively indicated that he wished to carry on and get in the water. He did not appear to be suffering unduly. No one was aware just how badly he was injured.
He entered the water unaided. However, after just over 9 minutes in the water and at a depth of 88mt / 288ft, Warner started an unplanned ascent. Other divers observed that he was struggling with his breathing and controlling his buoyancy, and tried to calm Warner down. Warner did not respond and continued to haul himself up the shot line.
At about 60mt / 196ft Warner did not have either the rebreather's mouthpiece nor a regulator from his bail-out cylinder in his mouth, and any attempts by other divers to put a valve into Warner's mouth were unsuccessful. He did not appear to be breathing.
A lift bag was deployed and it carried Warner rapidly to the surface from a depth of about 65mt / 213ft. This happened at just under 19 minutes into the dive. The skipper requested an immediate helicopter casualty evacuation. Despite further attempts by the accident and emergency staff, Lex Warner could not be resuscitated and was declared deceased at the hospital.
It is thought that the valve on a stage cylinder damaged or ruptured his liver. A Marine Accident Investigation Branch inspector identified internal injuries which were assessed to be inconsistent with a diving related accident. They told the Warner inquest inquest: "The severity of the injuries was such that, if he had not dived, his condition would have still reached a serious medical emergency level." (It was highly probable that even if a rescue chopper had been immediately dispatched two minutes after Lex Warner fell, he would have died from internal bleeding. The boat was in a remote location and he would not have been medivaced in time and bled out).
The Birmingham and Solihull coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Who is to blame?
Debbie Warner, Lex's widow, subsequently brought a claim for negligence against MY Jean Elaine of Scapa Flow Charters. Scotland's Supreme Civil Court ruled that under the articles of the Athens Convention the action became time-barred on 18 August, 2014, and should be dismissed. There is now going to be a hearing held at the Supreme Court on 28 June to ascertain whether the July 2016 ruling can be overturned.
While we mourn the loss of dive community members - who are somebody's spouse, parent or child, good friend or colleague - freakish accidents like this tragic incidence can just happen. In this regard we are also concerned about this trend of apportioning blame, when there is none, and how protracted court cases inflict further suffering on all parties involved.
Life always carries risk and if you engage in active sports that risk increases. Risk can be mitigated through proper training, use of quality equipment and applying common sense. But ultimately it is our own choice and responsibility, and this case it seems quite apparent that Lex Warner chose to dive. No one had any reason to believe he was suffering from a potentially lethal injury after falling onto his stage cylinder in such an unfortunate matter.
Operators do have some duty of care and equipment and procedures must be in order, up to standards and follow protocol. Beyond that we must take care of ourselves and not expect every hazard we may encounter to be bubble wrapped or cordoned off.