Pearl diver’s death examined
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