A forensic diving medicine examination of a highly publicised scuba diving fatality

Consultant in Diving Medicine, 69-74 North Steyne, Manly, NSW 2095, Australia, E-mail: .
Journal of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society (Impact Factor: 0.68). 12/2012; 42(4):224-30.
Source: PubMed


A high-profile diving death occurred in 2003 at the site of the wreck of the SS Yongala off the Queensland coast. The victim's buddy, her husband, was accused of her murder and found guilty of manslaughter in an Australian court. A detailed analysis of all the evidence concerning this fatality suggests alternative medical reasons for her death. The value of decompression computers in determining the diving details and of CT scans in clarifying autopsy findings is demonstrated. The victim was medically, physically and psychologically unfit to undertake the fatal dive. She was inexperienced and inadequately supervised. She was over-weighted and exposed for the first time to difficult currents. The analysis of the dive demonstrates how important it is to consider the interaction of all factors and to not make deductions from individual items of information. It also highlights the importance of early liaison between expert divers, technicians, diving clinicians and pathologists, if inappropriate conclusions are to be avoided.

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    ABSTRACT: The investigation of deaths that involve diving using a compressed breathing gas (SCUBA diving) is a specialized area of forensic pathology. Diving related deaths occur more frequently in certain jurisdictions, but any medical examiner or coroner's office may be faced with performing this type of investigation. In order to arrive at the correct conclusion regarding the cause and manner of death, forensic pathologists and investigators need to have a basic understanding of diving physiology, and should also utilize more recently developed technology and ancillary techniques. In the majority of diving related deaths, the cause of death is drowning, but this more often represents a final common pathway due to a water environment. The chain of events leading to the death is just as important to elucidate if similar deaths are to be minimized in the future. Re-enactment of accident scenarios, interrogation of dive computers, postmortem radiographic imaging, and slight alterations in autopsy technique may allow some of these diving related deaths to the better characterized. The amount and location of gas present in the body at the time of autopsy may be very meaningful or may simply represent a postmortem artifact. Medical examiners, coroners, and forensic investigators should consider employing select ancillary techniques to more thoroughly investigate the factors contributing a death associated with SCUBA diving.
    No preview · Article · Oct 2013 · Forensic Science Medicine and Pathology
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    ABSTRACT: Recreational diving is an exciting and adventurous sport, but is also potentially hazardous. Despite its inherent hazards, an increasing number of people enjoy SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving; the number of diving-related accidents is therefore also likely to increase. Divers might face physical or psychological stresses from the unfamiliar or hostile underwater environment, which can lead to fatal accidents. To investigate deaths related to SCUBA diving, a forensic pathologist should understand the types and mechanisms of injuries and illnesses unique to SCUBA diving. Postmortem examination of diving fatalities is therefore a formidable task for most forensic pathologists because cases are sparse and the process requires an understanding of diving physiology, diving equipment, and the underwater environment. The primary aim of autopsies in SCUBA diving fatalities is to detect evidence of pulmonary barotrauma, intravascular gas, or pre-existing illnesses. Standard autopsy protocol for SCUBA diving-related deaths should include methods to detect intravascular gas and gas accumulation in the tissue or body cavity through plain radiographs or Computerized Tomography (CT) scans. Analysis of the gas components is also helpful for determining the origin of the gas. Here, the author proposes a practical method for performing an autopsy on a person who died while SCUBA diving.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Modifications to the investigation procedures in diving fatalities have been incorporated into the data acquisition by diving accident investigators. The most germane proposal for investigators assessing diving fatalities is to delay the drawing of conclusions until all relevant diving information is known. This includes: the accumulation and integration of the pathological data; the access to dive computer information; re-enactments of diving incidents; post-mortem CT scans and the interpretation of intravascular and tissue gas detected. These are all discussed, with reference to the established literature and recent publications.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2014 · Journal of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society