Dives involving water flow among most hazardous, says expert
Diving at a tidal plant 'one of the most hazardous types of diving you can do'
Steve Donovan was at home in the Ottawa Valley reading about the Luke Seabrook's untimely diving death in Nova Scotia and it moved him to speak out.
Donovan started professional diving in 1971 with the Canadian Navy as a combat diver and also worked part-time in the commercial diving industry.
When he retired from the navy in 1995, he joined a working group that drafted occupational diving regulations for Nova Scotia. He also helped New Brunswick upgrade its regulations and assisted Ontario as it established its own rules.
Diving at a tidal plant involves water flow which is "certainly not routine, it's one of the most hazardous types of diving you can do," said Donovan.
Luke Seabrook, 39, had been hired to do an underwater inspection of the gate at the Nova Scotia Power Tidal Plant in Annapolis Royal.
Something went horribly amiss and he died on the job.
His brother Garth Seabrook says the dive team that recovered Luke Seabrook's body found his helmet had been pulled away from his suit, allowing water to fill his helmet.
Seabrook also says he was told the dam gate, which should've been closed and locked, instead had a 16 to 18 inch gap allowing water to flow and Luke Seabrook's body to be "violently sucked underneath."
The accident is being investigated by the Department of Labour and several safety orders have been slapped on the site and Paul's Diving Services, Inc.
Donovan isn't blaming anyone, and believes that everyone involved with the dive felt that the water flow dangers were sufficiently dealt with.
But he says Seabrook's death is a reminder about safety practices.
Donovan in similar situation
"You would have to ensure that one, there is no water flow. And put measures in place that ensure that the flow doesn't happen when you're in the water, a valve opening or a gate opening," Donovan said.
"But you have to have some positive control or some positive indicator that there is no flow there. When the diver's underwater, he won't see the current, he won't see the flow, and unfortunately when they realize it it's far too late."
Donovan found himself in a similar situation in the early 1990s.
He was diving in the Bedford Basin and trying to salvage a sunken tug boat. The team was pumping water off the boat so it would pop up to the surface.
But when he found the pump wasn't working quickly, he looked for a leak in the hull. His technique was to release milk from a carton to see where the water flowed.
"When I moved the carton to one area of the ship, all of a sudden the carton of milk and my glove was sucked into a [four inch] hole. If my arm would've gotten sucked in there, I just wouldn't have gotten it out," he said.
He says the water suction pressure would've been hundreds of pounds.
In the Seabrook case, Donovan believes that no one there would have knowingly engaged in a dangerous practice.
"I don't believe for a second that the dive supervisor, the diver, or the people at the control site were aware of the water flow."