A sailor who was dragged beside an inflatable boat as punishment during a Navy dive course suffered serious injuries when his foot was caught in the propeller.
Stuff learned of the incident while investigating the death of Able Diver Zachary Yarwood on the next intake of the dive course a few months after the August 2018 incident.
The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the lead instructor who oversaw the ‘punishment’ was convicted of two serious offences and has since left the Navy.
A Court of Inquiry into Yarwood’s death slammed the culture at the dive school, revealing it as poorly governed with an over-emphasis on physical prowess, and led to the Defence Force being fined more than a quarter of a million dollars.
It found that Yarwood died in March 2019 of hypoxia – lack of oxygen to the brain – while using an unauthorised gas-switch procedure he hoped would improve his dive times.
Yarwood’s father, Chris Yarwood, was furious when he heard about the previous incident.
“I’m disgusted to hear that such a serious injury has occurred to a diver during the course prior to Zach’s death – it just shows the reckless neglect of the safety they display to their staff,” he said.
Stuff has learned that the first incident happened when eight dive course students were made to hang on to ropes on the hull of an inflatable Zodiac so they could be pulled through the Waitematā Harbour.
This was referred to as “remedials” – effectively punishment for failing to make set-up and preparation times throughout the day.
A source familiar with the incident said there were four divers on each side of the Zodiac. After about 20 minutes of being dragged through the water, one of the divers became exhausted and let go, just as the boat was turning.
He was sucked into the propeller, the bottom of his foot cut open. It’s understood he suffered severe nerve and tendon damage and spent at least a week in Middlemore Hospital.
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He required two surgeries but was left with a bent toe, which required another operation. He was off work for about two months and wasn’t able to return to full duties for about a year. It’s understood the Navy paid for one of his surgeries.
The NZDF said in a statement the lead instructor on the day was charged with two offences and found guilty on both charges. He had since left the Navy.
The instructor was charged because of the serious nature of the incident “and due to the action being significantly out of step with service discipline”.
“The action of that instructor, and any others in the NZDF who take such actions that they know to be unacceptable, will not be tolerated.”
Chris Yarwood said it was ironic that no individual was charged in relation to his son’s death. “When it suits, they choose to ignore the standards they set.”
The NZDF says 14 recommendations from a Court of Inquiry into the boat propeller incident “have been completed or are under final review for completion”.
Yarwood said he wanted to know which, if any, recommendations had been implemented before Zach’s death. He also questioned whether the Navy played down the incident when it was reported to WorkSafe.
A WorkSafe spokesperson said it was told at the time that a trainee diver suffered lacerations to their foot after coming into contact with a boat propeller.
“The matter was not triaged to WorkSafe’s investigations team and the file was closed.”
The spokesperson said it was concerned about the number of incidents involving the Defence Force and was working with it to ensure health and safety standards were being met.
The NZDF said following Yarwood’s death, the Navy was improving its dive systems, focusing on improving safety, training, governance and structure.