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August 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Widow Blames Dive Gear for Death of Filmmaker

from the August, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Well-known National Geographic filmmaker Wesley Skiles drowned while shooting underwater because his Dive Rite rebreather malfunctioned, his widow claims in Palm Beach County Court. Terri Skiles claims that Dive Rite knew its oxygen monitoring system had a propensity to malfunction because it had been recalled multiple times, but Dive Rite ignored "serious quality control issues" and tampered with the scuba equipment evidence after the fatality.

She claims that in July 2010 her husband borrowed a used Dive Rite O2ptima FX Rebreather from a third party. The third party brought the rebreather to Dive Rite for a maintenance check, and after Dive Rite replaced a few parts, it said the rebreather was good to go, Terri Skiles says in the complaint. She says her husband used the rebreather while working in Boyton Beach, FL to try to get footage of Goliath groupers for the National Geographic film Speed Kills. However, the widow states: "Due to an unexpected catastrophic failure of the subject 02ptima FX rebreather during the dive, Wesley Skiles passed out underwater and died. This tragedy would not have occurred but for the tortious conduct of defendants Dive Rite, Dive Rite Express, Mark Express, Jurgensen Marine Inc. and Analytical Industries Inc. The subject rebreather was being used as intended at the time of the incident and in a manner reasonably foreseeable by the defendants.

"Thereafter, Mark Derrick and Dive Rite Express, acting in a joint venture with and/or as an agent of defendant Dive Rite, interfered with the investigation into the death of Wesley Skiles when, at the request of Hires [the owner of Dive Rite], Mark Derrick conducted the inspection of the subject 02ptima FX rebreather, which resulted in the spoliation of evidence in this case."

Skiles states that her husband's death could have been prevented. "In the years preceding the incident, Dive Rite was aware of serious quality control issues with the 02ptima FX rebreather. In fact, Hires was warned several times that because of the hasty manner in which the 02ptima FX rebreather was being assembled, the electronics and oxygen sensors on the 02ptima FX rebreather were being damaged by unknown sources of moisture leading to catastrophic failures, and that such failures would occur in such a way as to give the diver absolutely no warning of the failure.

"Additionally, all defendants knew of problems associated with the oxygen sensors being used in the 02ptima FX rebreather. Batches of oxygen sensors purchased from defendant Analytical Industries Inc. had been recalled in 2007, and subsequent batches continued to contain defective sensors. Moreover, the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall on December 22, 2009 for Dive Rite Wings because of defective over-pressure valve springs which could rust and fail, allowing the buoyancy compensator devices to leak, posing a drowning hazard to divers. Dive Rite and the other defendants disregarded these serious life-threatening defects in the 02ptima FX rebreather

"Over his career, Wesley Skiles became one of the most well-known and well respected underwater cinematographers in the world. He founded his own cinematography company, Karst Productions, and shot underwater films for National Geographic, PBS, A&E and Discovery Channel, directed the IMAX film Journey Into Amazing Caves, and produced the acclaimed television series Water's Journey. He won dozens of international awards for his effects, including Beneath the Sea's Diver of the Year and HDFEST's award for Best Cinematography. After his death, National Geographic named Wesley Skiles Explorer of the Year, and Florida's Peacock Springs State Park was renamed in honor of Wesley Skiles, and is now called Wesley Skiles Peacock Springs State Park."

Terri Skiles seeks damages for wrongful death, deceptive trade, conspiracy to spoliate evidence, negligent spoliation of evidence, breach of warranty, costs and funeral expenses.

--Marimer Matos, Court House News Service, July 24

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