Scuba diver died of ‘natural causes’

Nic Packwood.
Nic Packwood.

A company director from Shermanbury died after getting into difficulty while scuba diving, an inquest heard.

Nicholas Packwood, 55, of Brighton Road, Shermanbury, is thought to have suffered a heart problem while diving off Egypt’s Red Sea coast on March 31 last year.

An inquest in Horsham on Monday heard that Mr Packwood was an experienced diver who had completed about 300 dives.

He had travelled to Egypt with his friend and dive buddy Tom Voice.

Mr Voice told the inquest Mr Packwood was very competent, always calm, and meticulous about checking his diving gear.

The two of them were on the last day of a six day course training them how to use closed circuit rebreathers.

Rebreathers absorb the carbon dioxide from a diver’s breath, allowing the oxygen they have exhaled to be reused.

“When we got to 30m, Nic indicated that there was something wrong, using the international hand signal,” said Mr Voice, demonstrating by holding out his hand and tilting it from side to side.

A diver then usually points to the piece of equipment that is causing the problem, but Mr Voice said his friend did not do this. He offered Mr Packwood a spare air supply, but this was declined.

Dive leader Chris Armstrong took him to the surface in a rapid but controlled ascent.

Mr Voice followed them up. At this point he did not believe there was a serious problem.

“Nic was finning [swimming using diving fins] above me quite quickly, and appeared to be doing so quite calmly,” he said.

“When he got within ten feet of the surface he stopped finning - that’s when I knew something was terribly wrong.”

A statement from Mr Armstrong said he got Mr Packwood to the surface, and he seemed to respond to an instruction to release his mouthpiece, before appearing to pass out.

Mr Packwood was given CPR continually until he reached hospital, but was later pronounced dead.

The inquest heard expert evidence considering possible causes of death.

Pathologist Dr Mark Appleton said there was no evidence of a heart attack, but one of the arteries around Mr Packwood’s heart was noticeably narrowed.

He said a cardiac arrhythmia - a medical problem which would interfere with the flow of blood through the heart - was ‘a reasonable conclusion’.

The authorities in Egypt had recorded the cause of death as drowning but the inquest heard that this appears to be a standard practice for fatal diving incidents in Egypt.

Dr Appleton said he could not completely rule out the possibility that Mr Packwood had drowned - the medical evidence was complicated by the fact that he had been injected with embalming fluid after he died.

However, he said Mr Packwood’s actions before he lost consciousness were not consistent with drowning.

A report from Dr Campbell-Hewson said he believed the most likely cause was a type of arrhythmia called ventricular tachycardia.

He said this would cause confusion, then reduced consciousness followed by loss of consciousness.

West Sussex Coroner Penelope Schofield recorded a finding of death by natural causes.

“On the balance of probabilities, which is the burden of proof appropriate in this matter,” she said, “it’s likely that Mr Packwood suffered a cardiac arrhythmia, and that was his medical cause of death.”

She added: “It must be dreadful for the family to have lost him in this way, but I’m sure that knowing he

died doing something he loved has helped.”

Jim Watson, safety and development manager for the British Sub-Aqua Club, had mentioned during the inquest that around 15 divers a year die in UK waters.

Miss Schofield said she was ‘shocked’ at this.

She added: “I’m somewhat surprised that there’s not some sort of requirement for a medical test before diving, which is a dangerous sport, somewhat comparable to flying - but you can’t get into an aircraft to learn to fly without a medical certificate.”

After the inquest Mr Packwood’s widow Andrea commented that she was satisfied with the outcome, and glad that the case was concluded.

“It’s just been awful that it’s taken so long to come to this point,” she added.

Earlier, Miss Schofield had commented that a lack of cooperation from the Egyptian authorities had delayed the legal process.