24 August 2005

Diver lucky to be alive after vessel steams through shotline

Dive boat Taurus tried to block tug's path towards diversA diver is injured but miraculously alive after being bundled down the hull of a fast-moving tug which ran through a wreck-diving shotline off Kent.

The diver, a 37-year-old woman from Ashford, was diving with seven other divers from the Dover-based charter boat Taurus. Her husband was in the group but was not buddied with her.

The casualty suffered three broken ribs and a bruised lung after her collision with the tug, which did not stop. She was retrieved by Taurus, which was met by a lifeboat. Paramedics transferred to the dive boat, and the diver was put in splints and given intravenous drips en route to shore and hospital.

The incident occurred in the inshore traffic zone, five miles south of Folkestone. Dover Coastguard has told Divernet that the area is frequented by divers, and that the group's position should not have represented a hazard.

Taurus had put a shotline on to the 30m-deep Saint Cecelia and the charterers, from local SAA club Channel Divers, had descended to the wreck.

Flying an A-flag and standing by the shot with the divers still submerged, Taurus skipper Andy Nye noted a tug approaching at speed and on a course that would pass over the diving area. When it did not change direction, Nye temporarily moved off station and motored straight at the vessel in an attempt to make it change course.

"Despite my action it did not budge," Nye told Divernet. "Eventually I went to starboard to pass, as required by law, but the tug went straight through. I could see someone in the wheelhouse who seemed just to stare at me."

Nye turned to chase the tug back towards the diving area. "I couldn't keep up and I estimate the tug must have been doing anything up to 15 knots," he said. To his horror, the tug piled right over the shotline buoy.

The casualty was one of the first divers to ascend and was on the shotline at a depth of about 12m when the tug came through. Her buddy was on the shotline a little below her. The two were seen from above by Taurus's diving deckhand, who was waiting on the shotline at about 5m but, for some reason, was pushed out of harm's way when the tug arrived.

The casualty was jerked upward as the shotline was hit, and rose sufficiently to be hit by the passing hull. She bumped along its length and was incredibly lucky to miss its props before being spewed out in its wake.

"I saw her bob to the surface not more than 5m or so behind the tug," said Nye. "Later she told us she remembered hitting the hull and being bumped along - and that she actually thought to grab her BC inflator to be sure that she'd get to the surface once the vessel had passed. Now that's what I call presence of mind."

The deckhand came aboard and the casualty was recovered. "She was screaming and complaining of pains in her chest and stomach," said Nye. "One shoulder appeared dislocated but, if it was, it went back in as she came aboard. Her mask was gone and her face was covered in blood from a gash above an eye."

An emergency call was put out and two thunderflashes were deployed to bring the other divers aboard. The casualty's husband was seventh up and joined his wife, as Taurus made way toward the lifeboat rendezvous at a pace that kept the casualty as comfortable as possible.

Her discarded equipment displayed all too clearly the evidence of her violent ride. "The cylinder pillar valve was bent over 10 to 15 degrees and had lost its knob," said Nye. "As we pulled her aboard it was hissing away and we were mindful of a possible failure.

"The gear was laid in a position so that if the valve blew out it would go straight upward." The cylinder gradually emptied of air without incident.

Nye noted the name and home port of the tug, which is registered in Holland. An investigation is under way by Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

Source: www.divernet.com


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