The strange death of two coastguard divers

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The strange death of two coastguard divers

Two divers died last year in mysterious curcumstances on a training dive in the Arctic. Hill, 31, and Duque, 22, had slipped into a patch of open water near the ship's bow and were planning to dive to a maximum depth of 20 feet.

They were connected to the surface by ropes to help them if they became disoriented under the ice.

Yet they suffered and "an uncontrolled descent to a possible depth of 189 feet."

A father said that if in fact they went that deep, he didn't understand how the dive support team could have failed to prevent it.

"Why in the hell did they let out that much rope?" he asked. "It was only scheduled for 20 feet."

How could the the support team NOT stop them from decending? Surely they would know exactly how much rope was being played out. Surely they controlled the rate of descent via the ropes attacked to the men.

So what happened to them under the water that pulled them quickly to their deaths with a speed that could not be arrrested by the support team.

Did they get tangled in a submarine?

Also shortly after the tragedy, the Healy's commander, Capt. Douglas Russell, was relieved of duty and reassigned to administrative tasks; his superiors cited "a loss of confidence in Russell's continued ability to command."

Did he know there was a sub in the area and forget to tell the divers? Why would he be relieved of command if it was merely an accident?

Information from

Herald Tribune

By netchicken: posted on 23-11-2006

More information


They had been under water for about 10 minutes, estimated Harm Van Avendonk, a University of Texas geophysics researcher. It was near the end of the two-hour break, and many people had returned to the ship.

"I saw people from the bow looking intently down on the ice, and I sensed immediately that they didn't look relaxed," he said. "It was taking a long time for the divers to reappear."

Steve Stevenoski, a high school teacher from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., remained on the ice and was videotaping the expansive frozen seascape when he heard shouts from the dive support team, calling for extra hands to man the ropes. He dropped his camera and tried to help.

In a blur, the crew's training took over, several witnesses said.

The divers were pulled up by the ropes. Blankets and stretchers were rushed onto the ice, and EMTs immediately began performing CPR in an attempt to revive them. Soon they were carried to the sick bay onboard, where they were pronounced dead at 8 p.m., roughly two hours after the accident.

"What I can tell you is this: These people were very well trained. Every time we did something we had to have a safety briefing," Stevenoski said. "There was an accident that was completely unforeseen. What's unusual is we don't know why they died."

Van Avendonk stressed that while about 50 others were playing football on the ice, taking panoramic photos and going for walks, "the people involved in the dive were entirely focused on the dive."

According to Coast Guard protocol, they would have created a "dive profile," detailing who was diving, how far down they were going and how long they would spend at various depths.

Typically such plans are drawn up by a ship's dive officer, though the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of divers. That could explain why Capt. Douglas Russell, who transferred from a desk job in Washington, D.C., to the Healy in June, was relieved of command less than two weeks after the accident. Vice Adm. Charles D. Wurster, commander of the Coast Guard in the Pacific, said he had lost confidence in Russell.

Before he was relieved, Russell wrote on the ship's Web site that Arctic operations would continue following a four-day stop in Kodiak, Alaska. Instead, the Healy returned to its home port of Seattle under Russell's predecessor, Capt. Daniel K. Oliver.
By netchicken: posted on 23-11-2006

Two comments from the above article

Whales commonly drag there prey to the bottom in order to kill them by compression just as eagles take theirs to the sky and drop them to crush them. A whale would have no problem dropping to such deep depths in just a short period of time because thats the way they normally hunt.
- Lance Boardman, USA Nov 22, 2006 @ 9:14pm

What could have pulled these expeirenced divers to such a quick, horribly painful death? A submarine, ours or whoevers, could have snagged their air lines. If so, the goverment will bury the story and deny any culpability.

Could be some kind of large marine life. Possible but highly unlikely. Whales or large seals come to mind. They would only do it if it was stuck on them. Unless whales are much smarter than we ever gave them credit for. Their inteligence is easily as good as an elephant. Were humans to spend 20 MILLION years of evolution under the sea, how different would we see things.
- Eric W Rehwaldt Shelton, WA, USA Nov 22, 2006 @ 10:01pm
By netchicken: posted on 23-11-2006

And here...

This article seems to provide a likely explanation. However surely if the boat moved, the people would be towed behind, not dragged down to 100 feet. If they were dragged behind then the damage from the depths would not have happened. Would it?

It's curious to me that they lost both divers on the same dive, but there's no indication that one of them died trying to rescue the other.

Normally, both divers don't get into trouble at the same time (barring extraordinary circumstances...), but it is very possible if one diver started having problems, that the other one might try to help and that could lead to both of them dying.

I find it hard to believe under circumstances like that it wouldn't be disclosed.

So that leads to nastier worries. The first one that comes to mind is tainted air, or some kind of equipment malfunction. but what kind of equipment failure would hit both of them at the same time? that's hard to say -- but problems with the air supply would. the other thing that could have happened (and would fall in line with relieving the commander immediately) is that he decided to move the ship while they were in the water, and they got sucked under it or into the props.

That would be beyond stupid judgement, into the land of manslaugher, IMHO.
By netchicken: posted on 23-11-2006

None of this makes any sense to me. It almost seems like it had to be an intentional loss, how could negligence go so far?

Wonder what the history of these two guys were.
By MELtdown: posted on 24-11-2006

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