FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
New Zealand Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean received early August, as did this magazine and various other parties, a letter from a member of the New Zealand diving medical fraternity regarding a letter this magazine published and my response to that letter. See June/July issue #100 Letters to the Editor. The letter we published was from the highly respected Dr Julie Milland, a DAN Researcher based in Melbourne Australia. She commented on how fantastic it is for her to view on this magazineâs web site various coroner reports, âThis inclusion on your site is great for the diving communityâ. In my reply I commented, âI agree the information provided may prevent possible future accidentsâ. Which is what I hope we are all interested in achieving.
Two points concerned the medical person. In brief they are:
1. Are coronersâ reports entirely in the public domain, such that they can be reproduced in this way on a magazineâs web site…?â
The Judge has advised the following:
As a basic concept, coroners carry out their functions in public and the only grounds for restriction other than for self inflicted death are those in section 74-vis âin the interest of justice, decency, public order or personal privacyâ
2. My second concern is that this information should not be sent off-shore without formal medical professional review â there is a real risk of misinterpretation and misuse of coronial reports.
I must admit I was gob smacked by the full extent of the letter to the chief coroner.
In my opinion it was advocating that a coronerâs findings be viewed by a group of people who would then put their interpretation on it and then maybe you and I common divers may be told how a diver died.
Thank God coroners are down to earth people and want the diving community to be informed of how divers got into difficulties.
On the Dive New Zealand web site â click on News â then scroll down to Coronersâ Reports, you will see six reports … soon to be seven. In many of them the coroner states that he/she wants the results/recommendations made public to the diving community so that if possible divers do not make the same fatal mistakes.
As if to reinforce this I received, just as we go to press, the coronerâs finding into the death of three divers who were all diving on different days and lost their lives in the Motunau area on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The Coroner David Crerar makes the following in point 2 of his Decision Document: Section 15 of the Coroners Act states in part that the Coroner: âmake recommendations, or comments, on the avoidance of circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred or on the manner in which any person should act in such circumstances, that in the opinion of the Coroner, may, if drawn to the public attention, reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in such circumstances.â
So it appears that the coroners are very pro-active in ensuring that as far as possible the diving community is aware of how divers get into trouble.
Such comments within Mr Crerarâs report reinforces this objective
In Mr Crerarâs decision the following comment (16-xvi) was noted from Constable Cockerell a member of the New Zealand National Dive Squad.
Securing fully laden catch bags
(in this case holding 25 crays)
or other weight equipment that cannot be abandoned quickly hampers the diverâs movements and makes it harder for the diver to ascend to the surface. The diver should carry catch bags and simply let it go, should they encounter difficulty.
These comments from Constable Cockerell are what divers need to know. One of the divers who drowned had run out of air and it appears he had made a desperate attempt to reach the surface … this may have been possible for him, if he was able to just let go his heavy catch bag and not have to try and un-clip it or drop his weight belt.
The number of divers I see with catch bags clipped to their body/dive gear is frightening.They assume they will be able to un-clip the bag easily if required.
Ask Sergeant Bruce Adams of the Police National Dive Squad if a diver in a panic, having run out of air, has the calmness to actually un-clip a catch bag or other attachment … statistics suggest NO.
I have no problem with the medical profession analyzing every water filled lung, vein, heart and bubbles etc etc that may present themselves in a dead diver, but the average diver is really only interested in knowing how a diver got into trouble, what decisions they may have made that finally led to their demise. Such information may help prevent a similar accident.
The coroners can be congratulated on making available such information.
To try and limit access to this type of information is, in my opinion, very detrimental to divers and the diving industry. We want living divers not dead divers and coronersâ comments and recommendations add to the total education and awareness of divers.
May the current access continue long into the future and let the medical profession do their own âformal medical professional reviewâ with their colleagues and of course interested divers.
But letâs get the âbasicâ information out there ASAP. The coronerâs reports we have just received will be available on our web site. I encourage you to read them, it may save your life.
The Scallop season has started here in New Zealand and we hear they are fat and juicy … yummy!