Divers killed within three weeks of each other off coast of Donegal, inquests hear

February 13, 2019

Two divers were killed within just three weeks of each other during separate accidents off the coast of Co Donegal, inquests into their deaths have heard.

Both deaths took place during the summer of 2017 and the victims were men from overseas who had been visiting Donegal to go diving, Donegal Coroner’s Court has heard.

The first inquest was that of 57-year-old John Allwright of 23 Vicarage Close, Langford, Bedfordshire in England.

The inquest, held at Letterkenny Courthouse, heard how John was part of a dive group of seven who had left Downings Bay for Duncap Isle.

Mr Allwright had initially lost his diving mask while diving but had been given a replacement mask.

However, while passing through an underground cavern, John was sucked into an underground cave where he struggled to get out of.

Evidence was heard that he eventually got out of the cave and managed to get to the surface but was exhausted.

Local diver, Declan Burke, who had accompanied the visiting divers, said he had dived in this area at least 50 times before and was not aware of the cave in which Mr Allwright got sucked into.

The court heard that when Mr Allwright got lost in the underground ave, his fellow divers tried to rescue him with a rope and also a pole but the troubled diver managed to get himself out.

He managed to get to the surface but was found on his back unconscious just a metre below the surface.

His fellow divers took him onto the dive boat and performed CPR on him in a bid to revive him but failed to do so.

Diving instructor David Gration, a diver with 28 years of experience, gave evidence that Mr Allwright’s diving equipment had all been in working order.

He added that his equipment would have weighed between 40 and 50 kilogrammes and that trying to lift out of the water would have been exhausting.

He added that it would have been a very frightening experience being caught in the cave but he had managed to get out by sheer strength or the help of mother nature through the swell of the water.

A pathology report showed that Mr Allwright’s body had shown some small bruises to his forehead but that there was little sign of significant trauma.

Coroner Dr Denis McCauley said that having heard all the evidence he considered the death was a genuine accident.

He added that death was due to drowning and said death was as a result of an accident.

The second inquest concerned the death of Randy McNalley, a Canadian man from Edmonton, Alberta.

Mr McNalley, aged 63, was part of a group of divers who had been diving off the wreck of the World War II vessel the MV Pinto which is located 25 kms north of Fanad Head on August 14th, 2017.

He had been part of a group which had been diving for two hours at depths of up to 63 metres before they decided to resurface.

However, at 18 metres from the surface Mr McNalley, an experienced diver, lost contact with the group and did not resurface.

Visibility was poor and despite an immediate search of the area, Mr McNalley was not located.

It was revealed how a search team looking for the missing diver found his remains two days later on the afternoon of August 16th.

Search recovery diver Colm Humphries told how he found Randy on the seabed and his mouthpiece was not in his mouth.

Coroner Dr McCauley said it appeared that there had been a medical incident as data showed that Randy dropped to the seabed in a very quick manner.

He asked diving expert David Gration what he thought could have happened to Randy.

He replied that he had thought of this every day and the only thing he could think of was that something medical happened to the victim.

He added “We’re in an alien environment – it only takes something minor for it to become a huge problem.”

Coroner Dr McCauley said Randy was a fit and healthy triathlete but that something happened which made him become unconscious very quickly.

He suggested that it was an acute medical incident which rendered him unconscious and led to his death.

He said that death was caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain and that his death was as a result of an accident.