My first hand account of the accident on Sunday.

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Posted by Chris on September 19, 2006 at 12:29:52:

Harry Khachatoorian

On Sunday September 17, 2006, my girlfriend Kathryn Cody and I were paying customers on a Sport Chalet trip to San Clemente Island aboard the Great Escape. We witnessed a portion of the tragic event. My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the family and friends of Harry Khachatoorian.

The following account is what I personally witnessed:

Before the first dive of the day I observed Harry Khachatoorian (age 46) assembling his Inspiration Rebreather. He had kept the pre-filled scrubber unit in a sealed plastic bag inside the galley over night. He put that unit in first and attached hoses. He then put in the diluent and O2 bottles. He then closed up the unit and added a bailout bottle (15cf) on the side with a Poseidon Extreme regulator. He then put two lead shot pouches into the rebreather BC. He had not yet attached the fat hoses with the mouthpiece when I went to prepare my own gear for the first dive of the day in Pyramid Cove. The entire unit appeared to be very new. I did not see any scuff marks or corrosion anywhere on it. The Velcro on the weight pockets and the cloth on the BC looked pristine.

During the day I did not see Harry Khachatoorian diving. Kathryn and I were the first ones into the water on every dive, and usually one of the last ones out.

Our third dive of the day was at one of Captain Pam’s spots called Rock Hawk Point. The visibility varied between 50 to 70 feet. The surface was flat calm and there was no current. The water was very comfortable 65 °F.

Kathryn and I began our 3rd at 11:35 AM. We were again the first into the water. At 12:32 AM Kathryn and I returned to the anchor line for a safety stop. About 1 min into Kathryn’s 3 minute stop we heard the recall alarm. Since we had spent about 80% of the dive in less than 30 feet we shortened the safety stop to 2 minutes and surfaced by the bow of the boat at 12:35 AM. We looked up to the boat for directions and saw Gene Greenburg looking down at us. He said something had happened with the rebreather guy and they are trying to get everyone back onto the boat.

Kathryn and I slowly made our way to the swim step down the port side of the boat. When we had the swim step in view we saw the DMs lifting Harry from the swim step to the deck on the port side. He had a large amount of bloody froth on his mouth and running down his wetsuit. There was also a large group (perhaps 20) of divers waiting behind the swim step. Kathryn did not want to see any more so we swam about 30 ft so back towards the bow so we were away from the commotion and out of the generators exhaust fumes.

After about 5 minutes Gene Greenburg came to the side to tell us that they were getting divers back on board. Kathryn and I again made our way back to the swim step. There were still about 10 divers waiting to board when we returned. Since they were working on Harry on the port side, the starboard ladder was being used to get everyone back on board. Kathryn and I let everyone else, who was waiting go first, then she went up, and then I was the last one out of the water. As soon as we came up we were directed to go to the bow, and doff our equipment there. The crew had already removed everything from the back deck either to the galley or bow to prepare for a Coast Guard helicopter evacuation.

Once the boat was ready to move they moved us (the passengers) into the galley. Kathryn and I took a seat in the rear starboard booth. It turns out I was sitting next to the rebreather which was on the floor. The computer on the rebreather was beeping so I looked at the display. It said there was a scrubber failure, and O2 indicator read 2.01.

As the boat was moving a small boat from the Navy base at San Clemente pulled up. A flight surgeon, a paramedic, and two MPs came on-board.
They help tend to Harry while we sat in the galley during this time I watched the rebreather computer and the O2 indicator slowly rose.

At 1:56 PM with the Coast Guard helicopter circling the flight surgeon from SCI declared Mr. Khachatoorian dead. Once the death was relayed to the Coast Guard the helicopter left, since they only transport the living.

Just after Captain Tim announced to the passengers that Mr. Khachatoorian had passed I looked again at the rebreather computer and saw that the O2 indicator now read 2.25. It seems it was creeping up the whole time. As I looked at the O2 indicator for the last time it read 2.43.

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