11:11am Wednesday 25th April 2012
By Harry Hogger
THE dive buddy of a man who went missing off the Lyme Regis coast has been praised for his efforts to save his companion.
The body of Bristol builder Graham Packer was never found despite an extensive search after he ran into difficulty while diving for scallops three miles off the Dorset coast.
The Lyme Regis RNLI lifeboat, two coastguard helicopters, local vessels, the Lyme Harbourmaster and Royal Navy vessel Gold Rover were all called in to scour the waters after Mr Packer was reported missing.
Some 22 police search dives were carried out over two days, using sonar data and topography to scan the seabed.
At an inquest into the 61-year-old’s death, at County Hall in Dorchester, deputy West Dorset coroner Alan Horne praised the efforts of Bob Wheeler, who tried in vain to rescue his dive buddy when the tragedy occurred on April 21 last year.
Mr Wheeler, from Swindon, had never met Mr Packer prior to going out on the dive boat Blue Turtle that day but the inquest was told both were experienced divers.
Mr Wheeler said the dive had progressed relatively smoothly until Mr Packer signalled to him that he was getting low on air and they should return to the surface.
He said despite that signal, it was around seven minutes before they began their ascent – partly due to the fact Mr Packer had spotted some more scallops and gone to collect them.
Mr Wheeler said his buddy appeared to have difficulties with his breathing on the ascent and, despite his efforts to help Mr Packer they sank to the bottom.
He then tried to lift Mr Packer, who at that stage appeared to be unresponsive, but he ran out of air himself and had to return to the surface, doing so at such a rate that he had to be treated for decompression.
Mr Horne said the cause of death was unascertained and recorded a narrative verdict.
He said: “Whilst ascending at the end of the dive he appears to have run out of air and whilst receiving air from his buddy’s alternative air supply it is probable he has inhaled water having put the mouthpiece in the wrong way.
“Graham and his buddy sank to the seabed and he was unresponsive and probably dead at that time despite the efforts by his buddy to carry out an emergency lift for them both to get to the surface, this failed due to a lack of air to inflate the equipment.
“The body has not been discovered.”
Mr Horne added: “Bob took steps to try and save Graham that were beyond the call of duty and certainly put his life at grave risk.”
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