1 March 2023
The South Australian State Coroner, David Whittle, has recently recorded a finding that a 31-year-old man died of ‘carbon monoxide toxicity with drowning.’
The man was diving with friends from a boat, using a type of surface supplied breathing apparatus commonly known as a hookah, which supplies air to a diver or divers below, via a hose from a compressor driven by a small petrol engine.
The cause and circumstances of the man’s death are clear, and the State Coroner has made a finding as to the cause of the man’s death without holding an inquest.
However, the State Coroner has issued a public warning about the need for regular maintenance and safe operation of hookah systems.
Initially two of the group attempted to use the unit while diving but upon getting insufficient air, they returned to the surface and checked the hookah system before re-entering the water. Again, they found the device was not working correctly. After further checking, the man entered the water to dive alone. For some time, his friends could see bubbles coming to the surface, and the line moving around. Then they tried to have him come to the surface due to a change in the weather but had to pull him up, finding him unresponsive. They commenced CPR, which was continued on the beach. The man could not be revived.
Upon inspection, the hookah system was found to be generally poorly maintained, with significant faults. Among these, the pressure relief valve was not operating correctly and there was insufficient airflow at each of the regulators. An air quality test found that the unit was delivering a high level of carbon monoxide. The exhaust pipe of the petrol engine was in a poorly ventilated part of the boat and the intake pipe for the air compressor was just above the engine exhaust. The exhaust was the source of the carbon monoxide delivered to the deceased diver.
The State Coroner wishes to alert persons using hookah systems of the necessity for safe ventilation of engine exhausts and placement of air intakes, as well as the need for regular expert maintenance and servicing.