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From Man, 59, dies after offshore dive accident | StarNewsOnline.com
What began as a fun day of collecting underwater fossils several miles off Bald Head Island plunged unexpectedly into tragedy Thursday after one of the group's divers emerged from the water unconscious and never woke up.
In what was described as standard procedure, the U.S. Coast Guard has launched an investigation into the death of Donald Zantop, a 59-year-old veterinarian from Maryland who was killed by what officials portrayed as an unfortunate diving accident.
The incident, which was announced by the Coast Guard late Thursday, occurred about 3 p.m. as a crewmember aboard a 50-foot, chartered dive vessel named the Hawksbill called the Coast Guard to report an emergency.
Zantop, the crewmember reported, had slipped out of consciousness after completing a 70-minute dive to depths of 100 feet about 32 miles southeast of Bald Head Island.
It was the second fatal diving accident on the Hawksbill in less than two years.
Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach launched a 41-foot utility boat, and a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter lifted off from Charleston, S.C., to respond to the call. Petty Officer David Marin, a Coast Guard spokesman, said Zantop was first brought aboard the utility boat, but the helicopter later airlifted him to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Doug Bevell, a medical examiner investigator in New Hanover County, said an autopsy conducted on Zantop in Jacksonville showed that he died from an air embolus. Bevell said he had spoken with Zantop's wife, and she described her husband as an experienced diver.
According to Medical News Today, an online news service, an air embolism happens when an air bubble cuts off blood supply to a particular part of the body because it has become trapped in a blood vessel. This can happen during a scuba dive because when a diver ascends too quickly, the nitrogen in their blood does not have to time to clear and instead separates out of the blood, forming bubbles, according to the medical news service.
"We of course send our thoughts and prayers out to the family," said Rick Frazier, co-owner of the Cape Fear Dive Center, the Carolina Beach-based business that charters the Hawksbill for recreational dives. "It's an unfortunate thing. That's about all you can say in these circumstances."
Frazier, who was not on board when the incident happened, said the vessel ferried about 15 divers out to Megalodon ledge Thursday morning, a popular spot for finding fossilized shark's teeth.
"Diving as a whole is not a dangerous sport," Frazier said. But, he added, "what you have to realize is that with any sport, there are some risks associated with it."
There is a divemaster present on each voyage, Frazier said, and his job is to ensure that everything runs smoothly on deck. Divers are not supervised underwater.
While acknowledging that it was a deep dive, Frazier said that the 100-foot depth in which Zantop descended is generally safe.
A similar accident occurred in May of last year, when 50-year-old Corrine Pierce suffered fatal injuries to her lungs while scuba diving with the Hawksbill at the site of a shipwreck off Carolina Beach. A Coast Guard probe into the incident concluded that Pierce died because she rapidly ascended from a depth of 84 feet after mistakenly adding too much air to her dry suit, which made her buoyant and rise toward the surface too quickly.