07 September 2005

UK: Recovering scuba diver thanks club and rescuers

A diver who survived being run down by a commercial tug has described what it was like to be hit by 500 tons of steel moving at up to 15 knots - and has paid tribute to the people without whom she "might not be here today".

Suzanne Barnes, 37, from Ashford in Kent, went through the horrifying experience two weeks ago (see 'Related links', below). She has returned home after a period in hospital to join her husband Jason, who was also diving when the accident occurred.

Barnes has confirmed that she suffered a major impact on her right side, resulting in four broken ribs, a bruised lung and a damaged elbow. She also suffered facial cuts after her mask went flying.

"I was on the shotline at a depth of 9m - I know that because I was looking at my computer," Barnes told Divernet. "Then this enormous shadow passed overhead and I was jerked upward."

The "shadow" was the tug Boxer, run by the Belgian and Dutch-based salvage company URS. It is 138ft long, draws 17ft and weighs 517 tons.

"I remember an incredibly hard hit which gave immediate, excruciating pain, and being bounced along the hull," Barnes said. "I was aware of the surface and daylight, so I must have been going along the tug's side at a certain depth, rather than completely underneath it."

Barnes remembers thinking to grab her BC inflator so that "once I was clear I could be sure of making the surface", but recalls little of the moment when the sleigh ride came to an end and she was left in the tug's wake, mercifully having avoided contact with its props.

"The next thing I remember is Taurus doing a wonderful job of picking me up quickly and safely," she said. "I want to express my thanks to the skipper, Andy Nye, and the lifeboat crew and paramedics who went on to care for me on my way to hospital - everyone was magnificent."

Barnes also paid tribute to the diving trainers who had instilled diving instincts which, she felt, played an important role in her making the surface and remaining there, safely buoyant, until she was recovered.

"I owe perhaps even more to Channel Divers, SAA club 291," she said. "Without the detailed training and support they have given me during my two years of diving, I feel sure the result would not have been the same."

The incident, which occurred after the tug refused to alter course despite attempts by Nye to make it do so, is now under investigation by Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch. Barnes thinks the skipper involved should face some form of sanction - but only so that "he doesn't go and do it to anyone else".

The possibility of seeking personal compensation has not, she said, occupied her mind. But Barnes will be hoping that her injured arm, which remains stiff, will recover fully. As for her gear, she lost "just under a thousand pounds' worth, but that's covered by an insurance policy".

Barnes was amused to describe a recent sea rescue exercise, planned by Channel Divers before her accident but held after it, in co-operation with the RNLI. "I helped to organise the event, which I suppose is rather appropriate."

Barnes has dived mainly in Britain, but enjoyed a recent trip to the Maldives. In a few weeks' time, she and Jason will travel with Channel Divers to Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt.

By necessity her time will be spent around the pool, not in the sea. "The sun tan will benefit," she said. "But Jason had better not tell me just how wonderful the diving is!"

Related Link: Diver lucky to be alive after vessel steams through shotline

Source: www.divernet.com


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