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Report: Coast Guard Arctic Diver Died of Trauma to the Lungs; Rapid Ascent Suspected
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SEATTLE, Washington -- One of the two Coast Guard divers who perished in the Arctic last summer died of trauma to the lungs — a condition caused by rapid ascent — and possibly had dived deeper than planned, her father said Tuesday.

William Hill Jr., of St. Augustine, Fla., told The Associated Press that he finally received the autopsy report for his daughter, Lt. Jessica Hill, two weeks ago, but couldn`t bear to open it for several days.

"It was pulmonary barotrauma — trauma to the lungs — that was the immediate cause of death," Hill said. "There was speculation they were much deeper than they should have been, but why that happened I don`t know. The official report will go into much more detail about that."

Pulmonary barotrauma is caused by the rapid expansion of air held in the lungs, which can occur during ascents as pressure outside the body decreases. The family of Hill's diving partner, Boatswain's Mate Steven Duque, could not immediately be reached to confirm whether that was also the cause of his death.

The two died Aug. 17 about 500 miles north of Alaska, and the results of two Coast Guard investigations into the matter are not expected to be released until next year. A spokesman for the Coast Guard said Tuesday the agency was not releasing any information on the autopsy.

Hill, 31, and Duque, 22, of Miami, were shipmates on the Seattle-based icebreaker Healy, which was sailing through the region with about 35 scientists to collect data that would help them map the ocean floor. Hill was the ship`s dive officer, as well as the liaison between the scientists and the crew.

During a break in operations, she and Duque slipped into a small patch of open water near the Healy`s bow to conduct a cold-water training dive. They were tethered to the surface by ropes, lest they become disoriented under the ice, and were monitored by a support team.

Their dive plan called for them to descend 20 feet, Hill`s father said. Duque had never before gone diving in the Arctic, and only had been in a dry suit once before — while at the Coast Guard dive school in Panama City, Fla., he said.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of UnderwaterTimes.com, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

13 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Why don't they say how deep she actually went? I am sure they were using a dive computer. seems odd they didn't include that info
   comment# 1   - Diver · USA · Nov 22, 2006 @ 5:50am

189 feet.
   comment# 2   - Curious · New York, USA · Dec 4, 2006 @ 5:06pm

Seems to me that both where novice divers... Terrible loss of life. My condolences to the family. As an Emergency Response Diver I wonder, why did the surface support team not notice the amount of line they payed out and did the tether play a roll in the accident? It seems they exceded thier training and experience at a great cost.
   comment# 3   - Dive Master Slave · AR, USA · Dec 4, 2006 @ 7:39pm

Dive tenders cannot ascertain the depth of their charge once the diver is out of sight, as the line plays out for horizontal seperation too. It isn't unreasonable to have a diver working that far from the entry point. I doubt they would be allowed to dive those conditions from a USCG vessel if they were novices. We will have to wait for the reports to find out what went wrong. My condolences to the family and friends of Lt Jessica Hill and BM Steven Duque.
   comment# 4   - Matthew McArthur · Australia · Dec 5, 2006 @ 2:24pm

What I don't understand, with the information stated, ( A rapid decent occurred of which the deck crew could not slow by hauling on the lines.) Were they pulled down? or what?
   comment# 5   - Chris Sytsma · Harrisburg, Or · Dec 12, 2006 @ 10:25pm

I found out today about what had happened to a good friend of mine, in this case Steven Duque. Still can't believe he's gone. I dont know much about the nature of the dive or diving procedures but it doesnt make sense that the safety measures implied by the Coast Guard are useless.
   comment# 6   - Julio Hernandez · Miami, FL · Dec 29, 2006 @ 11:36pm

Several items of interest that seem to be left out of the media follow: The Coast Guard did NOT fill the diver's tanks. The air compressor on the Healy was out of service at the time. The tanks were apparently filled by a commercial shop in Seattle. This adds another variable to the mystery. A third person scheduled for the tragic dive "dodged a bullet" when she aborted her dive due a leak in her dry suit. A multibeam sonar for hydrographic studies, and a 3.5 khz subbottom profiler were left on during the dive. Uncertain if these systems could harm a person a few hundred feet away. (I doubt this was the case since several people had been participating in a Polar Bear swim. No others had any ill-effects as about a dozen of us took our turns in a plunge in a hole on the side of the ship, located even closer to the sonar transducers). I'm afraid this accident will remain a mystery for quite some time.
   comment# 7   - Robert Shepherd · Denver, CO, USA · Jan 9, 2007 @ 10:11am

The Coast Guard foia reading room provides all the underlying documents used by investigators. They covered everthing including sonar, and other equipment, line tender signals, dive equipment, training. I think the CG has done their homework on this one.
   comment# 8   - Jim Williams · Seattle Washington · Jan 14, 2007 @ 10:37am

I've just read through all of the official investigation reports, and it would seem that Lt Jessica Hill's death was caused by her tender party pulling her to the surface too rapidly - while she may have had a bouancy problem she was tethered, she was wearing a full face mask, and her cylinder still had air in it when later tested. Her ability to breath wasn't compromised and her regulator/mask were fine when later tested. If she had of been brought to the surface slowly by the tether then she would in all likelyhood be still with us today. What a terrible waste :( Condolences to the families of both divers,
   comment# 9   - Dive Trainer · Melbourne, Australia · Jan 16, 2007 @ 4:08am

They seem to have left out the information about the tether lines being extended beyond normal. BEYOND the 20 ft. If you go back and read the information the CG did release at first, before this got hush hush.... The tether lines were way beyond 20 ft. First of all, how could that happen if the line people were doing the job they were tasked to do and secondly, the two couldn't have rapidly ascended if they had to PULL them up from a depth beyond 100ft. I live for and love the US Coast Guard but they aren't telling the truth about what happened that day. And a few more people need to be held accountable for the two deaths. Not Just the Capt.
   comment# 10   - Former Coast Guard Ice Breaker Member · USA · Jan 9, 2008 @ 2:46am

I was in the u.s. navy in the arctic ocean in 1988, it could have been a great white shark attack.
   comment# 11   - (Capt Kirk) Richard Vergara Ret. · Miami, Fla · Jan 31, 2010 @ 6:57pm

The truth is we will never know what happened that day....the day I lost my sister...my best friend. According to the Coast Guard report Jessica accended to 189 feet and Steven to 220 feet. They were suspose to be at 20 feet for 20 minutes. Only after 30 minutes did the inexperienced line tenders realized there was a problem. My question to you is where the hell was the "Captain" and the "Commanding Officer". This dive should have been prevented and this tragedy should NOT have happened. When the rescue diver and Steven had holes in their dry suits this mission should have been aborted. For some reason the no balled Captain allowed them to continue on. I hope he sleeps well at night with two lives he essentially took on his conscious
   comment# 12   - Adrienne Hill Fowler · USA · Jan 23, 2012 @ 7:50pm

am an ex c.g 2nd class diver-uscgc northwind-was a diver on the northwind 81-82 did brig time over joke of a diving program-command was aware of deficiencies in diving program many years before healy tragedy, command blatantly refused to follow navy dive manual on countless occasions putting divers needlessly in harms way with little or -0- concern. no one covers up like the gov.
   comment# 13   - jimmy who · pubelo, co · Sep 27, 2016 @ 12:00pm
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