For the first time in Australian history a diving instructor has been charged with manslaughter over the diving death of one of his clients before an inquest is held. A 43-year-old woman from Ashmore has been accused of criminal negligence during a dive trip with foreign students off Wave Break Island in the Southport Broadwater in early April 2009.
Chinese student Xia Dai drowned during this dive after she went missing from the group. Her body was later found on the ocean floor. The dive instructor had been attending to a diver to check the person’s air consumption and when she looked up Xia Dai had disappeared. Weather conditions on the day had been poor and visibility bad, which helps to explain why the diver could go unnoticed. Twenty-year-old Xia Dai was on an excursion with other Chinese students from the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW.At the opening of the committal hearing on October 7, police prosecutor Detective-Senior Constable Reece Foort told the court that the instructor failed in her duty as a dive instructor in a number of significant ways. Foort said that Ms Dai was not adequately briefed or instructed, was over-weighted for her size and her air regulator was faulty. The instructor had failed to provide proper instruction on ascendancy and buoyancy techniques, check equipment or continually assess conditions according to Foort. "All these were factors which conspired on that day to lead to her death," Det Foort said.
The diving instructor’s barrister labelled the police case ''flawed'' and ''utterly without substance'' when the case appeared before the Southport Magistrates Court in Queensland this week. The barrister argued the case should have been handed to the coroner before his client faced the prospect of a life sentence. He asked magistrate Michael Hogan to throw out the case against his client. On Friday May 9 the court will decide if the case will be dismissed or goes to trial.
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors has carried out its own investigation into the tragedy but has not taken any disciplinary action against the female diving instructor.
Have your say We don’t know enough yet about the circumstances during this dive to come to a conclusion about negligence. However, while this is a very uncommon case, anyone in the diving industry knows that is all too possible for an unexperienced diver to have an accident when they are not properly instructed or guided.
The question is: is the poor guidance or instruction the fault of the diving instructor or the dive operator? It may be company culture or policy to dive in poor weather conditions, to send diving instructors out with more than 4 unexperienced divers, or allow people to dive who cannot swim properly or are medically unfit. After all: cancelling a dive costs money…
Or do you think that diving instructors should simply refuse to follow company directions if they feel it is unsafe? Have your say on Facebook and answer the poll there or reply in the comments.