THE FIRST RECORDED DIVING FATALITY IN SOUTH AUSTRALIAN WATERS

January 11, 2017|Posted in: Uncategorized

According to “A Listing and Analysis of Fatal Diving Accidents in South Australia” by Peter Horne, the first recorded diving fatality in South Australian waters occurred on 28th December 1951. The incident was recently recounted in The Advertiser on 26th December 2016.

001-002

A scan of the Boomer article in The Advertiser 26/12/16

The “Boomer” section of The Advertiser on Boxing Day featured a part of a report (said to be from 3rd January 1952) which stated that 33-year old wharf labourer John Justin Williams died whilst spear-fishing at Port Noarlunga. He is reported to have been using a “homemade (sic) diving outfit” (said to have contained oxygen*).

* (The press often state that dive cylinders contain oxygen, even though the use of oxygen for breathing underwater would be deadly.)

001

Williams was a champion swimmer

(Source: Boomer article in The Advertiser 26/12/16)

Williams is said to have “suffocated when he exhausted the oxygen supply”. He was a champion swimmer and he was said to have been experimenting with a “home-modified rebreather” at the time (according to According to “A Listing and Analysis of Fatal Diving Accidents in South Australia” by Peter Horne).

The Advertiser newspaper of the time stated that Williams was using a mask with a metal (oxygen) cylinder attached to it. Tests showed that he had exhausted the oxygen supply in his cylinder and had subsequently suffocated (not drowned) – see http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/45774606?searchTerm=john%20justin%20williams&searchLimits=l-title=44 .

According to the report in The Advertiser, “The home-made outfit, which weighed 45 lb., had weights attached to shoulder harness. These could not be discarded without taking off the whole outfit. A spokesman for the SA Underwater Spear Fishermen’s Association, issuing a warning yesterday against the danger of using homemade masks, said: – “The oxygen* supply in a cylinder of this type usually lasts from 10 to 12 minutes. The diver has no warning if the oxygen supply is exhausted, and if this happens he becomes so weak that there is little he can do to save himself.’ he added. None of the 125 members or the Spear Fishermen’s Association uses an oxygen mask. Most use a snorkel breathing tube which enables them to breathe while searching for fish with the face about six inches under water.”

* (see above)

Peter Horne’s report on the incident stated that Williams “had been immersed for some time . . (and) . . was apparently cold and blue just prior to his fatal dive”, but he persisted in performing it.

Williams’ death occurred just a few days after the birth of his son, Michael, on Christmas Eve. Michael says that his father was awarded a large silver cup for swimming the fastest time of 29 minutes 20 seconds in the Port Adelaide Amateur Swimming Club’s “Swim Through Port Adelaide” on 9th February 1935. He also won numerous other cups and gold medals.

001-001

Several of Williams’ trophies

(Source: Boomer article in The Advertiser 26/12/16)

Williams had won the Stevenson Bros. Trophy for the fastest swim time of 25 minutes 18 seconds in the “Swim Through Adelaide 1934” (a record).

He went on to become a swimming administrator. He was President for the Rosewater Amateur Swimming Club and also Secretary for the South Australian Amateur Swimming Association for some ten years. He had resigned as Secretary of the Association in 1951, shortly before his untimely death. He had served in the RAAF during World War II. He was said to be a resident of Mellor Park at the time of his death in 1951. Mellor Park later became a part of Lockleys.

Williams’ funeral was held at the Catholic section of the Cheltenham Cemetery on 31st December 1951. Members of the three Port Adelaide swimming clubs formed a guard of honour for him.

As stated earlier, Williams’ death was the first recorded diving fatality in South Australian waters according to “A Listing and Analysis of Fatal Diving Accidents in South Australia” by Peter Horne. The case was, to be more precise, the first recorded diving fatality in South Australian waters in modern times. It was almost ten years before another such case occurred in SA waters.

TAGS: , ,

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society’s extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

Leave a Reply