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Cleckheaton diver tells inquest of frantic bid to save wife
A mother-of-two from Cleckheaton died as a result of a diving tragedy while on holiday in Malta, an inquest heard.
Deborah Ward, 46, had been diving to explore a world-famous shipwreck when she suddenly got into difficulties.
Yesterday, an inquest heard how she and her husband Christopher Stephenson had only just reached the remains of the Rozi tugboat almost 25 metres down off the coast off Cirkewwa when she signed “I want to get out”.
Mr Stephenson, of Scholes Lane, said he did not think it was an emergency at the time because instead of going straight up to the surface, they set off the gradual way they had come in.
But just moments later Mrs Ward, an experienced diver who took novices on tours of sunken wrecks around the UK, went motionless half-way up.
Her husband had to pull her up to the top and six metres from the surface her air mouthpiece fell-out.
Speaking after the inquest he said: “I had no choice but to get us up to the surface fast. It took less than ten seconds but there was no choice. You hit the surface or you drown. We hit the surface.”
Mr Stephenson said when they surfaced he had to dump their gear and swim in to the shore where there were hundreds of people standing about. No one jumped in to help them until he got her up to a ledge.
“They didn’t want to get wet. They knew what was happening but no one came in to help,” he said.
Once Mrs Ward was on a ledge, some did come forward to get her on dry land and try to revive her but she never regained consciousness.
“I think she had already gone even before they got her to hospital and she went to intensive care,” he said.
Mrs Ward was officially pronounced dead 12 hours after the dive with her husband and daughter, then aged 16, by her side. Their son, who was 11, had also been holidaying with them.
After hearing post mortem evidence from Malta and the UK and despite there being some differences in findings, assistant deputy coroner Oliver Longstaff said Mrs Ward’s death on October 31, 2012 had been an accident caused by barotrauma, a pressure-related injury that experienced divers are aware of and would know how to avoid.
Barotrauma can cause a burst lung and the inquest in Malta did find signs of a lung rupture, although that finding was not backed up by the UK inquest.
Mr Stephenson told the Telegraph & Argus he had to accept the cause of death from the experts but was still surprised by it.
“It’s what the first autopsy came up with and that’s why I wanted a second one back home but it’s still a surprise. I’ve researched thousands of cases of barotrauma and found none like hers. Usually it happens to novices who bolt for the surface or others who get tangled in nets and have to get up quickly. How can this have happened to her and not to me? I was with her, we came up together but I’m still here.”
He said he had no idea what had happened to make his wife abruptly decide she wanted to get out of the water just as they got to the wreck.
“We had only got to the top of it, we hadn’t even looked round it,” he added.
Mr Stephenson, who met his wife at university, said he had not been on a dive since the accident because his children were not comfortable with it.