Several news organizations are reporting that the death of Hank Williams Hoskins Sr. resulted from a “severed” air hose when he was diving off the San Juan Islands on October 26. Mr. Hoskins, 40, was apparently a commercial diver diving without a backup air supply (in many circumstances this is totally normal). The county medical examiner blamed the death on an “unsafe dive operation,” with disregard for emergency procedures, according to the Bellingham Herald.
While I have yet to see any explanation as to exactly what happened under water, this is unusual in a number of ways. First, air hoses do not sever easily. Divers routinely dive in caves, ship wrecks, and around sea life, all of which could pose a danger to a fragile air supply. But the hoses attached to air regulators are not thin or delicate for exactly these reasons.
If the commercial dive operation involved an increased risk of severing hoses, as a Divemaster I would expect divers to have secondary emergency air supplies–a second air tank connected to a different regulator. Commercial divers who dive deeper than 130 ft and/or stay at depth for more than 10-20 minutes often use secondary tanks at decompression stops. Either of these would have been helpful in the event of an emergency.
But perhaps the most basic safety requirement of Scuba diving that could have prevented this death is the buddy system. Divers are not supposed to dive alone. The first stage of dive regulators (which attaches to the tank) connects to two second stages (mouthpieces) so in the event of an emergency like a malfunctioning air supply, a diver can breathe off his buddy’s air.
News reports do not describe exactly what happened, but in most cases safety precautions like the above prevent underwater emergencies from becoming drowning deaths.
(Note: the picture above is an example only. It hasn’t been reported what brand or type of regulator was used.)