Divers shaken by deaths at Edmonds park

  • Tue Feb 9th, 2010 9:28pm
  • News

By Katya Yefimova, Herald Writer

EDMONDS — Witnesses who saw Garth Klein scuba diving at the Edmonds Underwater Park on Jan. 3 told medics he surfaced three times, crying for help, then went underwater and didn’t come back up.

Two other divers rushed to help and pulled the unconscious man from under 15 feet of water. Klein, 50, of Newcastle, died at Stevens Hospital within two days.

The Snohomish County medical examiner said Klein died from complications caused by near drowning.

Bruce Higgins, the park’s chief caretaker, was at the beach the day of the accident. There wasn’t much he could do to help.

“It’s like I-5. You can say: ‘Don’t have car accidents,’ but people are still going to crash into each other,” he said.

Brian Berentson was scuba diving in Edmonds on April 17 when something went wrong. A diving partner rescued him, but it was too late.

The Microsoft worker was diagnosed with an anoxic brain injury, family members wrote in his obituary. It’s a life-threatening condition when a person’s brain is deprived of oxygen for longer than four minutes.

Berentson spent more than six months in a coma and died Nov. 11.

A grim reminder of how things can go wrong, news of accidents spreads quickly among the scuba diving community in the Puget Sound area.

“We always want to know what happened so that we don’t make the same mistake ourselves,” Seattle-area scuba diver and physician Howard Muntz said.

Recreational scuba diving is popular in the Northwest. On an average weekend at the Edmonds Underwater Park, about 100 scuba divers will go in and out of the water.

About 25,000 scuba divers flock to the site each year, according to the park’s Web site.

The park features a series of man-made reef structures and sunken vessels, connected by guide ropes anchored to the bottom.

“We try to provide a safe backdrop for this activity,” said Brian McIntosh, the city’s parks director. “It’s a very safe site, and we work hard to keep it that way.”

With so many people diving at the site, accidents are bound to happen.

Medics from the Snohomish County Fire District 1, which covers Edmonds, respond to the park to calls about divers in distress six to 10 times a year, spokeswoman Leslie Hynes said.

Edmonds police also are called and special police divers are available to respond.

Most of the time, the problem is resolved by the time emergency crews arrive. But one or two times each year, it’s serious.

The Divers Alert Network reported 53 diving fatalities in the United States in 2006. The nonprofit group conducts medical research and works to educate recreational divers worldwide.

Recreational scuba divers follow strict rules, Muntz said. You always have to dive with a buddy and stay with your buddy. It’s easy to get separated diving in the Puget Sound, because visibility is limited, he said.

Klein, who suffered a fatal accident in January, reportedly was diving with a buddy, said Hynes with Snohomish County Fire District 1.

Safety is taught carefully and extensively in scuba diving classes.

Probably the most common problem divers face is running out of air, Muntz said. The deeper you go, the faster you use up air, and the further you have to travel to get back up. If divers surface too quickly, they can suffer decompression injuries.

What happens to your body then is similar to what happens to a bottle of coke when you shake and open it, the physician explained.

“That can be catastrophic,” he said.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, kyefimova@heraldnet.com