Snorkeller's death highlights safety issues
The death of a Christchurch man who drowned while snorkelling in the Cook Islands highlights the need for safety regulations, a coroner says.
The Cook Islands, a popular holiday spot for thousands of New Zealanders every year, has no safety regulations for commercial snorkelling operations.
Graeme Leslie Parker, 37, was snorkelling with his wife, Huia, just three days after their wedding when he got into difficulty.
The pair were snorkelling off One Foot Island, part of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, on October 26, 2009.
Coroner Christopher Devonport found Parker died from drowning and likely cardiac arrhythmia, with the physical exertion of swimming and snorkelling contributing factors.
Parker, who was obese and had diabetes, had never been snorkelling before, but when he told the boat's captain he was told to be ready for an ''amazing experience''.
All the participants entered the water without a safety briefing.
The boat was moved to deeper water, with only the captain on board, as two other staff members had been dropped at the island to prepare lunch.
The Parkers, who were feeling tired, decided to swim across a reef to the boat, but called for help.
Another couple helped Huia Patuwhai-Parker to the boat, but Parker was still in the water.
Another couple, who swam to Parker when they realised he was in trouble, helped keep him afloat and attempted mouth-to-mouth when they saw his face had gone purple.
When they reached the boat, another passenger, who was a doctor, attempted CPR.
Meanwhile, another boat pulled up with an Australian doctor onboard. He reported there was no medical equipment onboard, specifically a defibrillator, medical kit or any dextrose-containing food or medication.
An ambulance was waiting for Parker on the mainland, but attempts to revive him failed.
He was pronounced dead at hospital.
The coroner found Parker was most likely dead when taken on the boat, but the lessons learnt could help prevent deaths in similar circumstances.
He said it would be ''of comfort'' to New Zealanders and other tourists taking part in snorkelling activities in the Cook Islands if similar standards applicable in Australia and New Zealand were adopted in the Cooks - a sentiment backed by Parker's family.
Richard Parker said that while his younger brother's death was caused by several factors, if there had been regulations in place it could have prevented the tragedy.
By highlighting the ''serious shortcomings'' in the Cook Islands' regulations, particularly the lack of medical equipment onboard, he hoped another death could be averted.
Coroner Christopher Devonport, who cannot make recommendations to people outside Zealand as it is not in his jurisdication, highlighted the following standards that are applicable in New Zealand, but not in the Cook Islands:
- Rescue and emergency procedures should be in place for commercial snorkelling activities, including informing snorkellers of how to signal for help.
- Floatation aids and rescue floatation aids should be available.
- That an activities co-ordinator is supported by one or more lookouts.
- Staff be competent in rescue techniques.
- Boats should carry basic first-aid equipment and medical equipment that can assist with the provision of CPR.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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