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Inquest: Drowned Kiwi Rebreather Diver Forgot to Turn Equipment On

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MARLBOROUGH, New Zealand -- A diver who drowned at Ship Cove last year had failed to turn on his oxygen providing rebreather equipment properly.

At an inquest this week Blenheim coroner Peter Radich found Nigel Peter Lees, 48 of Stratford, died of hypoxia with subsequent drowning on September 22, 2005, the result of the misuse of equipment.

A Police National Dive Squad report presented at the inquest stated Mr Lees had been diving alone off a chartered boat in good conditions to check his gear. He was also planning to clear mussels off the mooring line and collect crayfish.

Mr Lees, his wife Bronwyn and several other divers had charted the boat, the Sandpiper, to dive the Lermontov wreck and other wrecks over four days.

The report stated that because Mr Lees' electronic handsets were not turned on, additional oxygen was not being put into the system to compensate that being lost.

The report noted Mr Lees was an experienced diver and methodical in the maintenance of his equipment. However he went diving alone, which the report states is against safe diving practice and he failed to ensure his equipment was on. Mr Lees' equipment was in good condition prior to the dive, the report said.

Diver David Young, who was part of the dive trip, brought Mr Lees' body to the surface after the group became worried about how long he had been in the water for. He stated in written brief that he found Mr Lees lying face up at a depth of 15m with his rebreather switches turned off.

Mr Young said CPR compressions were attempted from the boat, unsuccessfully.

Mr Radich said the long delay between Mr Lees' death and the inquest was because the diving equipment was sent to England, where it was manufactured, to be investigated.

He said Mr Lees' death was "yet another diving death which highlights the dangers of diving" and the need for correct practices where equipment was concerned.

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