Diving instructor cleared of criminal responsibility for 2016 fatality

The court could not find a shred of evidence that the instructor was wrong in her assessment of the situation, noting that she had done all she could to save the victim

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

A court has cleared a diving instructor, accused of causing the death of a Polish man while leading a group of divers on an expedition to the Um-El-Faroud wreck, of all criminal responsibility.

Przemyslaw Jan Walkiewicz died in tragic circumstances in April 2016 when out diving with a group of experienced scuba practitioners.

The group drifted off course after resurfacing prematurely due to one of the divers having insufficient air. Some of the divers managed to swim ashore, but others had to be rescued by helicopter.

One Polish man surfaced unconscious and all attempts by the instructor, Paulina Kurowska, to administer first aid and CPR were unsuccessful.

Pathologists later confirmed that the cause of death had been barotrauma due to change in pressure caused by very rapid decompression.

The police charged Kurowska with causing the death of Walkiewicz through imprudence, carelessness or unskillfulness in her art or profession, or through the non-observance of regulations.

As the case was heard a number of witnesses and documents showed that Kurowska had been leading a ‘very experienced’ group, some of them ‘rescue dive masters’.

The victim himself had 61 dives under his belt with the deepest one being of 29 metres. The dive being led by the accused at Wied iż-Żurrieq was to reach a depth of 25 metres.

The court observed that regular diving procedures had been followed with divers being briefed before the dive and provided with a dive plan.

But one diver had unexpectedly needed to resurface, prompting the resurfacing of the entire group of divers at a place other than the pre-agreed exit point, which had been a crucial factor in making the dive feasible.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech ruled that Korowska could not have foreseen that they would have had to surface prematurely and drift off-course due to currents which came into play only when they surfaced due to the unexpected turn of events.

The court noted that upon realising that the Polish diver had surfaced unconscious, Kurowska had been “quick to embark on a series of knowledgeable and calculated actions undertaken in a bid to ensure his safety.

“Her professionalism emerged from the fact that she was still instructing two of the divers as to the measures to be taken not only to bring Mr Walkiewicz safely to shore but also to summon help, remaining the last person to be brought to safety,” observed the magistrate.

The fact that the victim had ascended too rapidly, suffering barotrauma as a result, was not the fault of the accused, the court ruled, saying that there was “not a shred of evidence that the accused was wrong in her assessment of the situation”.

The court ruled that if anything, the accused was overly cautious when taking measures to avoid the risk of barotrauma occurring.

“The fact that following a safety stop of three minutes, when requested by the deceased to wait for a further minute, another minute was added before leading her group to ascent, clearly militates against any negligence on the accused’s part which in turn heralded and brought about barotrauma which led to the sad demise of Jan Walkiewicz.”

Finding an “absolute lack” of a causal nexus between the death and the actions of the accused, the court proceeded to acquit her of all charges.

Lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha were defence counsel.

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