Dive student feared for his life

TRAGEDY: Searchers recovered the bodies of two divers who died in Lake Pupuke at Takapuna last year.
TRAGEDY: Searchers recovered the bodies of two divers who died in Lake Pupuke at Takapuna last year.

A dive student has spoken of the moment he thought he would die after becoming tangled at the bottom of a deep crater lake on Auckland's North Shore.

Ralph Henry was speaking at the inquest into the deaths of Daniel Waata Stoneham, 33, and Tyron North, 37, who died during the same dive training at Luke Pupuke on a course run by Helix Training on July 15 last year.

He recalled seeing the two men at the bottom of the lake and thinking they had already passed out because they didn't respond.

The inquest by coroner Gordon Matenga began yesterday and was expected to finish today.

Yesterday it was suggested Stoneham and North may have made a bet over who could reach the bottom first.

The group of five adult students, supported by an instructor and two specialists, were completing their final deep dive at the end of a 15 week training course when they got into trouble.

Evidence from the group's instructor and specialists spoke of ''panic'' at zero visibility underwater, with divers unable to see how deep they were going.

The group was instructed to keep pace with the instructor for a 39 metre deep dive.

But some sank to 50m including Henry who was the least experienced.

''I remember looking at my gauge and it said 50 metres. I touched the ground and thought, eh? I couldn't breathe properly, I started to struggle. I was tangled up, I thought I was going to die," Henry said.

''I think it was Tyron and Daniel next to me, I started shaking them to show I was in trouble. I think they'd already passed out because they didn't shake back.''

Henry said he felt a hand pulling at his oxygen mask then going limp, and he took in water.

He managed to shoot himself straight to the top in a panic without decompressing, and required hospital treatment for the bends.

Henry said everyone except Stoneham and North had resurfaced by the time he came up.

Henry, who was friends with North, said he knew nothing about rumours of fighting and a bet between the pair. The men were thought to have bet a bottle of Vodka on who could reach the bottom first.

Henry said he didn't hear this.

 ''They were just saying oh yup, see you at the bottom. We were just trying to get the dive over and done with.''

Stoneham's sisters Sheree and Madeleine Stoneham raised questions over the necessity of such a deep dive in trying conditions, and the group's preparedness for such a scenario.

They also questioned failure by Helix Training to report a previous incident where Stoneham came close to running out of air.

Helix Training director Haydon Allan said the incident didn't meet criteria for investigation within the company but admitted he made a mistake in not reporting it to the Department of Labour.

''He would have sat down with the instructor and had a full debrief... He would have been made aware that he probably didn't check the gauges or do re-entry checks,'' Allan said.

He disputed that it was a serious incident.

An investigation following the deaths resulted in changes to the company's safety procedures, Allan said.

Previoulsy there had been nothing requiring students to be issued with cutting tools but now they all received them in case they became tangled while diving, Allan said. Divers were all issued dive computers as well.

Dives have since been standardised and aspects of education reinforced. This includes the refocus on the "buddy system" where people are to resurface within 30 seconds of losing sight of their designated partner.

Allan said he had done several dives at Lake Pupuke and had never witnessed zero visibility.

Follow @AucklandNowNZ

Auckland Now