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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Firms to pay $1.4 million in diving suit

Associated Press

Three companies have agreed to pay $1.4 million to the family of a West Virginia woman who died while scuba diving off Hawai'i Kai.

Susann Lovejoy, 42, of Huntington, W.Va., drowned during a scuba diving trip July 14, 2003, when she had problems with a device that controls the diver's buoyancy, said family attorney Rick Fried.

Her inexperience as a scuba diver combined with the malfunction of her buoyancy device and a lack of supervision contributed to the drowning, Fried said.

The settlement calls for the Waikiki-based scuba dive charter, AqauZone, to pay $400,000. The manufacturer of the diving equipment, Sheico PKS Inc., paid $300,000, and the equipment distributor paid $700,000.

Lovejoy went diving with her husband and daughter at Turtle Canyon off Hawai'i Kai as part of an eight-person dive group led by one instructor. The Professional Association of Diving Instructor recommends at least one instructor for each eight divers.

When the buoyancy device failed at a depth of 10 feet, Lovejoy swam toward the water's surface because she had difficulty breathing. Then she began to panic and swallowed some water, Fried said.

She sank to a depth of 30 feet, Fried said. The instructor swam and brought her to the surface, but she couldn't be resuscitated.

The valve on the buoyancy device, which releases and holds air, is vital for divers to rise and descend, he said.

If there had been more instructors, she might have been saved despite the equipment problem, he said.

"Had they been watching her, this could've been avoided even with the defective product," Fried said.

AquaZone declined to comment on the settlement.

Another attorney for the Lovejoy family, Patrick McTernan, said a Coast Guard investigation found that inadequate supervision contributed to the accident.