Tragic diver was ‘in panic’ on sea wreck

Neil Rodgers
Neil Rodgers
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A DIVER from South Yorkshire died while exploring a sea wreck after he descended beyond depths for which he was qualified, an inquest heard.

Dad-of-four Neil Rodgers, 40, became separated from two other more experienced divers when he got into difficulties. He was qualified to dive only to 35 metres but the trio descended to about 47m in the Sound of Mull off the west of Scotland before they hit trouble.

Sound of Mull

Sound of Mull

It is thought all three suffered nitrogen narcosis, which affects nerve cells in a similar way to alcohol, as they explored the wreck of the Rondo, a cargo vessel which sank in 1935.

As they became separated, Mr Rodgers’ ‘dive buddies’ Dr John Fallon and Sarah Brough each thought he was with the other.

Alarm engineer Mr Rodgers, of Chapelfield Crescent, Thorpe Hesley, near Rotherham, was on a club trip with other members of Doncaster Sub Aqua Club when he went missing in March 2008.

His body was finally found, lodged underwater between two boulders, 10 months later.

The inquest heard Mr Rodgers had been warned by the club’s dive officer not to go beyond 35m, a limit recommended for divers of his experience.

Independent diving expert Peter Church, asked by the coroner to investigate Mr Rodgers’ death, told a Sheffield hearing his two ‘dive buddies’ who were qualified to dive to 50m checked him only once at 11m. Mr Church said he would have expected “frequent” checks on the less experienced diver and for the trio to be close together as visibility lessened.

He said: “I would have expected the whole team to hold at 35m. Beyond that I would expect checks at every five metres.”

He said of exploring the Rondo: “It can be quite an ambitious dive. It’s a very steep dive and you can end up deeper than you planned to go because of the way the boat lies in the water.”

Pathologists could not give the exact cause of death which remains “unascertained”, although drowning was suspected.

The Sheffield hearing was told Mr Rodgers was up late the previous evening, drinking with other club members, but was “absolutely fine” in the morning.

Mrs Brough said it was more “challenging” for three divers to communicate than going in pairs, but after the check at 11m they descended “very quickly” with all three in touching distance.

She suddenly realised when she checked her depth gauge that they were at 47m and said: “I looked at Neil and he indicated he wanted to turn round.”

They stopped and sat in a triangle on the wreck to regroup. She said: “Neil started showing signs he was going into panic and really wanted to start going up. He wasn’t happy.”

She saw the other two divers face-to-face with their torches on. After about a minute she watched the torches ascend vertically from the wreck until they were out of sight. She then made her own controlled way up and was “pretty out of it”.

Dr Fallon told the inquest he had dived with Mr Rodgers before on trips well beyond 35m, and got the impression he was a “very capable” diver. Had he known his limits he would have tackled him about it, he said.

Assistant deputy coroner Donald Coutts-Wood said he was satisfied Mr Rodgers’ equipment played no part in his death and the dive plan beforehand and at the scene was adequate.

He said: “I am satisfied narcosis played a role. The effects could be exacerbated with the alcohol drunk the night before and lack of rest, but above all the question of depth comes in.”

The coroner said depth played a significant role in spreading confusion as Mr Rodgers was clearly in distress and panicking.

“It would appear he left that area never to be seen again,” said Mr Coutts-Wood, who recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.