Coroners service investigating fatal dive near Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Investigation into deaths of two divers off Snake Island lies with B.C. Coroners Service to piece together what went wrong.

The investigation into the deaths of two scuba divers is now in the hands of the B.C. Coroners Service.

The case was handed over to the coroner Friday after police determined no foul play was involved in the incident that killed two of three divers partaking in a recreational dive at Snake Island Friday shortly before 3 p.m.

All three divers are from Washington State.

The incident triggered a massive rescue and search effort by the Canadian Coast Guard, the RCMP West Coast Marine Section and CFB Comox search and rescue squadron to get one of the divers to hospital and find a second diver who had gone missing.

The diver who was rushed to hospital died Friday. The third diver was not injured.

The body of the missing diver was located Sunday morning by a commercial diver, who was able to secure the body until the RCMP patrol vessel Higget arrived to assist in the recovery, police said in a press release.

Barb McLintock, of the B.C. Coroners Service, said Tuesday the victims’ names had not been released because of difficulties contacting the next of kin and that the coroner’s investigation into the deaths is still in its early stages.

“Basically, our first job, obviously, was to find and recover diver No. 2, which we successfully did on Sunday,” McLintock said. “Now we’re turning our attention to the whole question of what went wrong and how did this go so badly wrong, but we don’t have any answers to those questions yet. We just know they’re important questions.”

Snake Island is located east of Nanaimo in Georgia Strait and is the furthest island out from the entrance to Nanaimo Harbour.

The island is also home to the two most popular sites for dive boat excursions –  the wrecks of the HMCS Cape Breton and HMCS Saskatchewan off the east side of the island, and the Snake Island Wall, which drops to a depth of at least 200 metres on the island’s west side.

Paul Tasker, maritime search and rescue coordinator with the Canadian Coast Guard Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria, confirmed the men were “technical” or “extreme” divers participating in a deep dive on the Snake Island wall to a planned depth of more than 60 metres.

“It’s a pretty high-risk activity, that one,” Tasker said. “Diving, period, is high risk, but that’s pretty extreme stuff, 200 feet, and they were down to 260, I think, was the maximum depth they ended up going.”

Bob Simpson, a diver from Nanaimo, said he has dived the wall numerous times.

“All three are advanced dives,” Simpson said. “You have an absolutely beautiful wall of sea sponges and anemones. Down to 120 feet it is a beautiful dive.”

Simpson said hundreds of dives are made on the wall each year.

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