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Tragic death of 23-year-old student in Australia sparks call for better diver training

PUBLISHED: 12:49 31 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:30 31 May 2018

Colchester student Bethany Farrell, 23, drowned while on a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef Picture: CARON FARRELL/PA WIRE

Colchester student Bethany Farrell, 23, drowned while on a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef Picture: CARON FARRELL/PA WIRE

The death of a Colchester student who drowned on a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef has sparked calls for first-time Scuba divers to receive better training.

The 23-year-old had travelled to the Whitsunday Islands for a once-in-a-lifetime trip Picture: SHANE BATHAM/TOURISM QUEENSLAND IMAGE LIBRARY/PA WIREThe 23-year-old had travelled to the Whitsunday Islands for a once-in-a-lifetime trip Picture: SHANE BATHAM/TOURISM QUEENSLAND IMAGE LIBRARY/PA WIRE

Backpacker Bethany Farrell, 23, was just six days into a gap-year trip to Australia when she died at Blue Pearl Bay in the Whitsunday Islands.

The former Gilberd School pupil travelled to the country in February 2015 for what was supposed to be a year-long adventure.

But an inquest heard tragedy struck just days in as she took part in an introductory diving session – and had become separated from her diving instructor Fiona McTavish while approximately 23ft underwater.

She had become separated from her diving instructor Fiona McTavish, who had momentarily turned away from the group of beginners.

The 23-year-old panicked and swam to the surface – but was unable to stay afloat.

She was found on the seafloor an hour later.

Coroner David O’Connell, of Queensland Coroners’ Court, said the university graduate had not been given adequate training before her dive – or appropriate supervision during it.

He made 12 recommendations – adding that changes to the diving industry were “vital” to prevent similar tragedies.

“It is evident that Miss Farrell’s death occurred due to the introductory diver having inadequate, demonstrated or practised, skills with Scuba equipment, and her being in an environment (underwater), with which she is not familiar,” he said in his findings – published after a three-day inquest in Mackay.

“Scuba diving, whether around the inner islands, or along the Great Barrier Reef, is a large and important industry.

“It is vital that appropriate standards are set, maintained and observed, to ensure that the activity is conducted safely.”

The inquest heard Ms Farrell, who had travelled to Australia with two friends, was given a dive briefing on board a sailing catamaran ahead of the dive.

She also experienced issues with her equipment, and visibility during the dive was said to be poor – up to 16ft at best.

Mr O’Connell’s recommendations will be referred to Queensland’s equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive.

They included better training for divers before they head into open water, and reducing the introductory dive instructor ratio from two-to-one to one-to-one if conditions were poor.

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