Nova Scotia

No closure for family of diver killed at Nova Scotia tidal plant a year ago

The family of a Dartmouth man killed on the job at Nova Scotia Power's Annapolis Tidal Power Plant a year ago is still seeking answers about how and why his death happened.

Luke Seabrook's family on mission to prevent divers from dying on the job

Luke Seabrook had five years of experience as a commercial diver when he was killed at the Nova Scotia Power tidal power plant in Annapolis Royal last July. (CBC)

The family of a Dartmouth man killed on the job at Nova Scotia Power's Annapolis Tidal Power Plant a year ago is still seeking answers about how and why his death happened.

Commercial diver Luke Seabrook, 39, died last July 15 while inspecting the dam's underwater gates. The generating station is located where the powerful Bay of Fundy tides meet the Annapolis River in Annapolis Royal.

"He didn't have a hope in hell, nobody would," said Angela Seabrook, Luke's mother, as she stared at the rushing water pouring out of the dam.

The Wasaga Beach, Ont., woman travelled to Nova Scotia to see the plant for herself on the eve of the anniversary.

'I need to know'

"I have to find out what happened and why it happened before I can forgive," she said. "There might not be anybody to blame for this. It could just be an accident, but I need to know."

Angela Seabrook is suing under Nova Scotia's Fatal Injuries Act. (CBC)

Luke Seabrook was carrying out the annual inspection of the gate as part of Paul's Diving Service Inc. It was a job he'd done before. 

His family has received details from Jarvis DesRoche, the backup diver, who along with the diver supervisor, were providing support from the shore. 

Within a minute or two of going underwater, Seabrook signalled to come up. His support team couldn't pull him up but the line wouldn't budge, so they tied off his line in hopes he wouldn't be dragged farther away. 

"If Jarvis had gone down, there would be two of them dead," Angela Seabrook said.

DesRoche had to wait about an hour for the tides on both sides of the dam gate to equalize before he could retrieve his friend's body.

Seabrook says her son was found stuck in the gate, which wasn't fully closed, as it should have been. His helmet was wedged in the gap. 

The opening allowed the force of the world's highest tides to surge through. The differential pressure on either side of the gate creates a powerful suction. That pressure can be in the tonnes.

In the diving world, that hazard is called Delta P, and it's one of the leading causes of death for occupational divers.

'I hope he didn't suffer'

Luke Seabrook was found with broken ribs and contusions to his head. His suit was ripped, his mouthpiece was loose. 

"I don't know whether he died because his lungs were crushed or he drowned," Angela Seabrook said. She's still waiting for the autopsy report's official cause of death. "All I know is I hope he didn't suffer."

Luke Seabrook's wife says this wasn't his first diving job at the tidal power station. (The Seabrook family)

For the last year, the provincial department of Labour has been investigating the workplace fatality. It typically takes two years before findings are released and charges, if warranted, are laid.

Seabrook's fear is that another diver could die on the job in the meantime.

Department denies CBC request

CBC News has asked to see the department's stop-work and compliance orders slapped on Nova Scotia Power and Paul's Diving Service Inc. Those requests have been denied, and that decision is waiting to be reviewed.

Rejecting a request for labour department orders is unusual. In previous cases, the department has provided the information to CBC News.

Nova Scotia Power has declined an interview. And the dive support team members have not responded to an interview request.

Angela Seabrook rode 1,900 kilometres on her motorcycle to see the plant for herself in her quest for answers. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

'Things haven't changed'

Seabrook has enlisted the help of diving expert Stephen Donovan in her quest for answers. In the '90s, Donovan was a member of the working group that drafted Nova Scotia's diving regulations. He says he walked away from the group because it was split with infighting among different diving groups that had competing interests. The end result, he says, was watered-down regulations.

"Things haven't changed from when I was diving in the Bay of Fundy in the middle of the '70s," said Donovan. "Yes, we have better equipment but we still are losing people."

Stephen Donovan says he's frustrated occupational divers are still being killed by Delta P, a well-known diving hazard. (CBC)

Donovan finds it deeply troubling that Luke Seabrook was likely killed because of a danger that is nothing new – differential pressure at a dam. 

He says he believes Seabrook's death was preventable. It's high time, he says, for the diving community to make safety a priority. 

"Very frustrating that changes haven't been made that I think should've been made."

'We feel forgotten'

The wait for information has been agonizing for Seabrook's widow, Sheryl. They were newlyweds when Luke was killed.

His last text was haunting and sweet.

"Going to work with the changing tides. I love you, I'll talk to you soon," she recalled.

Luke and Sheryl Seabrook were married three months when he was killed on the job. (CBC)

The 36-year-old has tried to go back to work, but she's been unsuccessful.

Diving was a passion she shared with her husband, but now she can't go back in the water.

On this first anniversary of Seabrook's death, she plans to go to the plant for the first time where she'll spend time in quiet meditation. 

She'll find a wreath attached to a chain link fence surrounding the dam. It's the only hint of the tragedy.

Angela Seabrook says a worker told her this wreath is in memory of Luke. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

But there will be no closure. 

"I think that's something that can only come after the full investigation is disclosed to us, if and when," she said.

"We feel forgotten."