Steve Donathan's Death

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Posted by Bat Ray Dave on August 24, 2005 at 11:06:34:

I would like to review some statements first.

San Diego police report; “The 20-page death investigation report concluded that Donathan died on June 25 inside the former Canadian warship "as the result of a diving accident for which he was solely responsible,"

The breaches of safety protocol are explained in a 20-page death investigation report prepared by San Diego police in conjunction with lifeguard divers. The investigation concluded that Donathan was solely responsible for the accident.

46-year-old Joseph Dangelmaier of Carlsbad, told investigators that he tried to signal to Donathan that he couldn't proceed any farther, but Donathan continued. Becoming separated from a "dive buddy" is a violation of safety procedures for recreational divers, but it was not considered crucial to Donathan, who specialized in solo diving, Dangelmaier told police.

”Investigators concluded that Donathan lost his bearings when his movements stirred up silt inside the boiler room. His primary light flooded, making it even harder for him to find an exit, the newspaper reported.”

He did not mark his route with a guide line and abandoned his diving partner to enter the ship's boiler room, a previously sealed compartment off-limits to divers.

Lt. Nick Lerman, dive team leader for the San Diego Lifeguard Service, told the newspaper that the report indicated that Donathan was "overconfident" and put himself in danger unnecessarily.

Joel Silverstein of Technical Divers International said the lifeguard divers searching for Donathan were only equipped for short dives, going underwater dozens of times to look for him. It wasn't until the next day that technical divers were called in.”

Lt. Nick Lerma, dive team leader for the San Diego Lifeguard Service, said "If you're looking for a safety message, it's this: The basic safety rules of scuba diving apply to you regardless of how experienced you are,"

"I don't think there are a lot of instructors who would think Steve made the right choice when he went on without checking to see if his student was following," said Haynes, who is a diving instructor. "Both parties (student and instructor) should have known what was going on."

Here now is my personal view.

I knew Steve for almost 4 years before this tragedy. While I thought he was a good technical diving instructor, I don’t think he considered himself invincible when it came to technical diving. He always lectured on the safety nuances and the required approaches of technical diving. That being said, I cannot imagine him leaving a student inside a wreck, or on any training dive. This report of him diving alone in the last few minutes of his life sickens me. It did not have to happen. I also believe that it would have made no difference in getting technical divers to search for him up front unless they could have been in the water within an hour after he came up missing.

We discussed this hopelessly sorrow event to great length at a SDOF gathering within weeks after Steve’s death. Many of us are speculating that local shops, operators and charter groups will now insist that there be no solo diving on the Yukon. Things might be changing, and not necessarily for the better. My condolences to Steve’s son, girlfriend, and other family members. Rest in peace Steve O Donathan.

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