In­quest

Pearl diver’s death ex­am­ined

Broome Advertiser - - Front Page - Shan­non Hamp­ton

The cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death of a man who drowned div­ing for Pas­pa­ley pearls off the Kim­ber­ley coast went un­der the mi­cro­scope last week in a lon­gawaited coro­nial in­quest.

Jar­rod Hamp­ton, 22, died on his sec­ond day work­ing as a drift diver for the Pas­pa­ley Pearling Com­pany off Eighty Mile Beach, about 160km south of Broome, in April 2012.

Mr Hamp­ton was an ex­pe­ri­enced recre­ational diver but was new to drift div­ing, which the in­quest was told was “ex­tremely fa­tigu­ing” and in­volved scour­ing the seabed for pearl shells while be­ing towed be­hind the Pas­pa­ley II.

The in­quest, held in Perth, was told Mr Hamp­ton, an ex­pe­ri­enced scuba diver, was on the eighth dive of the sec­ond day of the pearling sea­son when he sur­faced pre­ma­turely and shouted for help twice be­fore he dis­ap­peared un­der the wa­ter.

Notic­ing Mr Hamp­ton’s air house was tight, the crew used it to pull him in to find he was life­less, his skin was grey and there was “frothy blood” in his face mask.

Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter the fa­tal dive found Mr Hamp­ton may have been un­der­wa­ter for at least seven min­utes af­ter he sig­nalled for help.

There was a de­lay in pulling Mr Hamp­ton on to the boat be­cause his col­leagues strug­gled to lift him up a lad­der.

Crew mem­bers were un­able to re­vive him and a post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion re­vealed he drowned.

Giving ev­i­dence, in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer Se­nior Con­sta­ble Bradley Bell, an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lice diver, said “the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor” in Mr Hamp­ton’s death was that he was not wear­ing a buoy­ancy com­pen­sa­tion de­vice.

Sen. Const. Bell said the de­vice would have al­lowed him to keep his head out of the wa­ter and his air­way clear.

“If Jar­rod Hamp­ton had a buoy­ancy com­pen­sa­tion de­vice and had come into dif­fi­culty ... all he would have had to have done is in­flated that,” he said. “He would have been on the sur­face and (they would) recog­nise he was in trou­ble.”

He added Mr Hamp­ton would “still be alive” if a dive su­per­vi­sor had re­mained on deck in po­si­tion to re­spond to an emer­gency.

As part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Sen. Const. Bell made six pri­mary and 22 sec­ondary rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing that it should be manda­tory for pearl divers to wear a buoy­ancy com­pen­sa­tion de­vice and that there should be a dive su­per­vi­sor on deck at all times.

Also rec­om­mended was that pearl divers should be paid a wage rather than by the shell, which Sen. Const. Bell said led to divers fo­cus­ing on pay rather than safety.

Lawyer Gail Archer, rep­re­sent­ing Pas­pa­ley, pointed to im­prove­ments to safety pro­to­cols since Mr Hamp­tons’ death, in­clud­ing that buoy­ancy com­pen­sa­tion de­vices are now manda­tory for all divers.

Ms Archer said two crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing a look­out, are now al­ways on deck.

Out­side court last Wednesday, Mr Hamp­ton’s father Tony said he be­lieved the ev­i­dence heard dur­ing the in­quest’s first days had been “damn­ing”.

“We’ve had ev­i­dence so far point­ing to a lack of su­per­vi­sion, a lack of train­ing first of all ... no res­cue pro­ce­dures what­so­ever (and a) lack of safety equip­ment on the boat. It was just a calamity of fail­ures, one af­ter the other,” he said.

The in­quest con­tin­ues.

The fam­ily of Broome pearl diver Jar­rod Hamp­ton leave the Coroner’s Court. Picture: Mo­gens Jo­hansen

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