Scuba diver’s death near Whangārei caused by faulty and broken gear, coroner finds

Lee Victor Tohu and his friends went diving from the Tūtūkākā boat ramp in Northland. Tohu failed to surface. (File photo)


Lee Victor Tohu and his friends went diving from the Tūtūkākā boat ramp in Northland. Tohu failed to surface. (File photo)

A man who died while diving in calm conditions was using faulty diving gear that led to his death, a coroner has ruled.

Whangārei local Lee Victor Tohu, 52, failed to surface from a dive off the coast of Taiharuru in January 2020.

Conditions at Taiharuru at the time were calm and sunny, with a gentle sea breeze and about 0.5m of swell.

Tohu soon became separated from his dive partner after setting off from the Tūtūkākā boat ramp in the morning.

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He was later found dead, floating in the water.

The police national dive squad believed Tohu had run out of his air supply and didn’t abandon his weight belt, meaning he didn’t have enough air to ascend in a controlled way, according to a recently released coroner’s decision.

The squad noted his diving regulators, which controlled the pressure of breathing gas, were in “very poor condition” and were causing Tohu to inhale harder than normal.


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He also had a faulty submersible pressure gauge, which displays how much air remains in a tank.

This was a “significant contributing factor” into Tohu’s death, the dive squad said, as it was giving him incorrect information and leading him to think he had more air supply than he did.

His depth gauge was also faulty, so he didn’t have an accurate idea of how deep he had dived.

Coroner Debra Bell said those defects, coupled with the fact Tohu didn’t have a dive watch, meant he was essentially “diving blind”.

Tohu was also not qualified to scuba dive and toxicology tests had shown he’d consumed cannabis prior to the dive, Bell said.

“Scuba diving is an activity with a serious number of risks,” Bell said.

“You must not only be appropriately qualified to dive but also be aware of risks and how to safely manage them.

“There is also a need to be meticulous in maintaining and servicing your dive equipment.”

The dive squad report recommended that anyone diving should complete a dive course or a refresher if they were not diving consistently, along with ensuring they were medically fit to dive.

They should also wear a dive watch to help plan dives, ensure equipment worked and was serviced at least once a year, abandon weights when in trouble and dive with a buddy.

Bell also noted it was important not to consume any illicit drugs prior to scuba diving.

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