Widow tells of dive death horror
A SCUBA diver who lost her husband and almost her own life in a diving accident has revealed details of her lucky escape after their air tanks were contaminated with carbon monoxide.
Kelly-Anne Masterman has told of the final moments of a deadly toxic gas dive on Henderson Rock, off Brisbane's Moreton Island.
Her partner and dive buddy Fisheries Queensland director boss Andrew Thwaites, 44, drowned after he blacked out underwater when his air tank was filled with almost 500 times the acceptable level of carbon monoxide.
Dr Masterman said she too nearly died from "grossly high" levels of contaminated air on an ill-fated scuba dive at the popular Cherubs Cave site, famous for grey nurse sharks.
"I'm lucky to be alive,'' the Brisbane Mater Hospital cancer researcher said.
"It was very nearly a double dive death tragedy."
Today, more than eight months after a coronial inquest into the August 10, 2016 tragedy she is still waiting for answers.
Mr Thwaites' death was one of 10 diving or snorkelling-related fatalities off Queensland in a horror year for the state's dive industry.
Dive and medical experts told the inquest the contaminated gas dive death was incredibly rare with only one other known fatality in Queensland waters in the early 1980s.
Dr Masterman hopes the inquest will recommend a sweeping overhaul of safety at hundreds of Queensland's recreational dive shops and clubs.
Just 15 minutes into the dive, Mr Thwaites had signalled to his partner he had a sore stomach, to cut short the dive, and return to the surface.
"We didn't know it, but it was like sucking on the end of an exhaust pipe,'' Dr Masterman said.
Mr Thwaites did not follow Dr Masterman to the correct anchor line but may have rapidly shot to the surface, before he blacked out, sank under the waves and was swept away by strong currents, the inquest heard.
After a huge air and sea search his body was found the following day on the sea floor by police divers.
Doctors say it takes as little as six minutes of inhaling the colourless, odourless gas before a rescue turns into a recovery.
"Nothing done differently on the day could have saved Andrew's life, we're not talking about a minor mishap, but a catastrophic outcome," Dr Masterman said.
"Everyone tried to blame it on me because I was his dive buddy, which was awful.
"About 20 other tanks tested, including mine, were also contaminated."
Mr Thwaites' tank contained 2366 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide as well as unusually high levels of carbon dioxide, the inquest heard.
Most compressed gas in scuba tanks is less than 5 ppm of carbon monoxide.
It is alleged Mr Thwaites' tank was contaminated when he filled it from a faulty compressor at the Underwater Research Group of Queensland clubhouse on July 13, 2016.
"Nothing is going to fix his loss,'' Dr Masterman said.
"But morally and for safety reasons, there needs to be a massive overhaul of safety standards for the state's recreational dive clubs.
"Some people say it's too big, it'd ruin the industry, but if people keep dying that'll ruin it even faster."
The Underwater Research Group declined to comment. Coroner Christine Clements will hand down her findings at a date yet to be fixed.