Man dies as Coast Guard divers forbidden to help

Coast Guard Dive Rescue volunteers who had warned the dissolution of their team would cost lives did not have to wait long for a case to prove their point.

The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans shut down the 15 member Coast Guard Sea Island dive team Friday.

Less than 48 hours later a car plunged into the Fraser river. A 23-year-old woman managed to escape but the 25-year-old driver was trapped inside the submerged vehicle.

The Coast Guard Hovercraft was on the scene within minutes from its base just across the river.

Coast Guard personnel lit the accident scene with their high powered lights. Two dive team members on board were not permitted to dive because their equipment had been taken away.

Coast Guard First Officer Dave Percy said, "They were there within minutes and were unable to dive because of the new policy of no diving. Because of that a man is dead."

Half an hour later Richmond Fire Rescue pulled the man's body out of the water.

Coast Guard Regional Director Mike Henderson said there has not been a significant need for the team over the past six years.

The dive rescue team had been disbanded once before, in the late 1980s, as a cost-cutting move.

A subsequent report found divers could have saved lives in at least six separate accidents in as many years. The incidents included six drownings in a fishing boat collision in 1993, and another four deaths after a car rolled into the Fraser that same year.

The dive team was reinstated in 1995.

Henderson said since then the team has completed 2000 dives, 40 of them rescues, with one live person retrieved.

He said, "When you have water involved municipal accidents, they're generally the responsibility of the municipal fire and rescue department.

Richmond Fire Department Battalion chief said the public is now at greater risk. "Our protocol now would be to get a hold of the RCMP and get their dive team on the scene. And who knows how long that's going to take."

Henderson said the Esquimalt based Defence Department diving team will take over all rescue efforts.