Two men who came to Ireland for diving expeditions in the summer of 2017 died within three weeks of each other in separate tragedies off the Donegal coast.
Inquests into the deaths of the men were held at the Coroner's Court in Letterkenny today. Though the cases were unrelated, it emerged that both men, one from England and one from Canada, had come to Donegal on diving trips, which included dives on war wrecks off the coast.
Johh Allwright, 57, from Langford in Bedfordshire, England, was one of a group of seven divers who left Cuan na nDúnaibh (Downings Bay) for Duncap Isle in Cuan na gCaorach (Sheephaven Bay) on 28 July to do a "swim-through" in a cavern.
Earlier in the week they had dived on the HMS Audacious and other shipwrecks but on the 28 July, because of weather conditions, they could not go to other wreck sites and instead decided to do a shallow dive and went to what was described as one of the best scenic dive sites in Sheephaven Bay.
Their guide, Declan Burke, told the inquest that he would have done the same dive about 50 times, he briefed the divers and led them through the cavern, which narrowed at one point but took only about three minutes to swim through. Mr Allwright however was sucked into a side-cave and he lost his mask. Mr Burke said he had never seen that cave before but about a month later a local diver was also sucked into it but survived.
Mr Allwright managed to get out of the tight cave and was seen clinging to rocks and shouting for help. Other divers got to him and swam him to the boat where he was taken on board by a hydraulic lift and CPR was administered. He was airlifted to Letterkenny University Hospital by the Coast Guard helicopter where he was later pronounced dead.
Diving expert David Gration examined Mr Allwright's equipment on behalf of the coroner, Dr Denis McCauley, and said it would not have had a bearing on the tragedy.
In his opinion Mr Allwright managed by sheer strength to get out of the cave and maybe mother nature helped with a swell but at some point he lost his mouthpiece and was taking in water. Mr Gration said that he did not know anyone who would be strong enough to get to the rocks with all that weight on them.
Dr McCauley said Mr Allwright died as a result of drowning, he was a large man with a lot of equipment who was dragged into a cave and while he was able to extricate himself, his mouth piece came out and his equipment, which was there to help him, became a hindrance and decreased his buoyancy.
This was a genuine accident, he said, there was nothing Mr Allwright did that increased the risk.
In the second case, Canadian diver Randy McNalley from Edmonton in Alberta was diving on the wreck of the WWII cargo ship Pinto on 12 August 2017 when he died.
The 63-year-old was a very experienced diver and triathlete, he had completed the dive with a group of nine divers and was coming back to the surface when he suddenly dropped down again. Fellow diver Tom Brown said conditions were good on the day and Mr McNalley was fine and had enjoyed the dive.
Mr McNalley's body was recovered by a search team two days after the accident. Diver Colm Humphreys said he was lying on his back on the seabed and his mouth piece was not in. A post-mortem examination concluded that he died as a result of hypoxia, lack of oxygen.
However David Gration, who was at the scene and was able to monitor Mr McNalley's equipment by computer, said that his cylinder had not run out of oxygen. His view was that Mr McNalley had suffered some medical incident about 18m from the surface. He knew Mr McNalley and said he was a fighter and would not give up and he definitely did not run out of oxygen.
Coroner Dr McCauley agreed that at 18m from the surface Mr McNalley lost consciousness but he said we do not know how, and he became hypoxic because his mouthpiece fell out.
He concluded that his was an accidental death caused by lack of oxygen to his brain but that it was probably a health issue that caused his death rather than a diving issue.