Sunday, 29 April 2012

Update on the death of diver Judy Swann April 13, 2012

ONTARIO 2012: Fatalities - Summaries & Recommendations

I am assisting the Ontario Underwater Council with the writing of fatality reports following the death of any scuba diver in provincial waters.  I have posted an earlier version of the report - what follows is current as of April 29, 2012. 
The report was put together by:
Stephen Weir          Sport Safety Consultant
Ayisha Hassanali   Sport Safety Consultant
Raimund Krob        Sport Safety Advisor

One can see a more complete version of this report at the Ontario Underwater Council's website 

Fatalities - Summaries and Recommendations are listed in chronological order.


Dive Site:
On Friday, April 13th, a 58-year old Caledon woman (Judy Ann Swann) and her husband (Eric Tolton) were planning on doing a dive to check out her brand-new dry-suit. The locations they considered for doing so included Welland Scuba Park and Humber Bay Park West. They chose Humber Bay Park West because it was closer. As this would be their first time diving at this site, they obtained a briefing on the site beforehand.

Satellite image of incident site (blue dot):

Photo of North Beach Entry Point:

Photo by Raimund Krob

Dive Site Description:
The entry point is a rock beach a few metres/yards away from a parking lot. From shore, the bottom has about a 1:6 gradient, or 1 foot / metre of depth for every 6 feet / metres out. The day of the incident was sunny with mild winds and waves out of the south-west. Water temperature at the surface was 6 degrees C.

Dive Plan:
Eric and Judy’s dive plan was to first have Judy get geared up and go out to a depth just above her head and then do a buoyancy check, while Eric stood by on shore with additional weights if she needed them.
o      If Judy was able to descend, then she was to inflate & come back to the surface, wait for Eric to get geared up, and then the two of them would go on their dive.
o      If Judy was not able to descend, then the plan was for her to swim into shore, get the additional weights from Eric, and then do the buoyancy check again. If she was then able to descend, then she was to inflate and come back to the surface, wait for Eric to get geared up, and then the two of them would go on their dive.

When they arrived on site in the parking lot, they met another diver (Elliott Cristofoli) who was already preparing to go on his dive. Eric and Judy discussed the conditions with Elliott and then decided to use the north entry instead of the south entry because conditions while good in both locations were slightly better on the north.

Elliott then went on his dive while Eric and Judy unpacked and geared up.

Shortly after Elliott returned from his dive, Eric and Judy made their way from the parking lot to the north entry, a rocky beach a short walk from the parking lot.

Elliott recollected that Judy was fully geared up, and Eric had his dry-suit half on and was carrying two yellow two-pound weights.

Eric described Judy as feeling fine and excited about checking out her new dry suit.

Shortly after that, Judy entered the water with her snorkel in her mouth, but when she got out far enough to do her buoyancy check, something (not yet known) happened to her to cause her to become completely unresponsive. Eric shouted to Judy several times to put her regulator in her mouth, but she did not respond and then slowly sank under the surface.

Eric then entered the water with his dry-suit still half on. Judy had by then sunk to the bottom and was in a head-down, feet-up orientation. Eric described trying to reach Judy to inflate her suit, but with the flooded suit and underwear and cold water (6 degrees C at surface), it was impossible for him to do so, and so he began shouting for help.

A passing cyclist heard Eric’s cries and alerted Elliott, who was disassembling his gear and loading it into his trunk. Elliott grabbed his mask and ran to the beach. He helped Eric (who Elliott described as being in a state of hypothermia / shock) out of the water, and then swam out to help Judy. Elliott saw Judy outlined below but had no means of getting down to her.

Elliott then swam back to shore, ran to his car and got his bail-out bottle & regulator. He borrowed Eric’s fins, and then holding his bail-out bottle in one hand swam out to rescue Judy. With his other hand, he grabbed one of Judy’s legs, towed her into shallower water, inflated her BCD, and then proceeded to give her rescue breaths.

Bystanders assisted in the rescue effort, EMS was activated, and shortly afterwards the Metro Marine Unit responded, followed by land ambulance.

Judy was taken to St. Joseph’s Health Centre a short distance away, where she was kept on life support until approximately 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 22nd.

As of the revision date of this report, the Coroner’s office has not yet completed their testing and/or analysis of those test results, and has not yet notified the family of the cause of death or the reason for Judy becoming unresponsive in the first place.

Carotid Sinus Reflex was considered as a contributing cause but was ruled out as the neck seal of the dry-suit had previously been trimmed at the store during the fitting process.

OUC Recommendations to Prevent Recurrence:

1.     Buddy teams of divers should make every effort to do as much as possible together, including gearing up together, entering the water together, and checking buoyancy together.

2.     Dry suit divers should ensure their dry-suits are zipped completely closed before entering the water.

3.     Certain types of scuba equipment such as dry suits may be easier and safer to use with           appropriate Instruction / Training / Supervision beforehand. If you have any questions as to whether Instruction / Training / Supervision might apply to your scuba equipment acquisition, ask your local scuba professional (Retailer, Instructor, etc.).

4.     When checking out dry-suits for the very first time, divers should strongly consider doing so in a confined-water pool-like setting, rather than in an open water setting (many retailers and clubs book pools for this purpose).

5.     This incident was similar in many respects to the fatality of Robert Cupick in 2006, so OUC should make its “Ontario Scuba Diving Incident and Prevention Reports” more visible. . 

For public domain information of this incident, please refer to Section C, Appendix #1 of this document.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Descending now airing in Canada


The Low Down On An Upcoming Scuba Show
(May issue of Diver Magazine)
By Stephen Weir 

A brand new Canadian based underwater TV series is descending to new heights thanks in part to its use of cutting edge video cameras. The Outdoor Life Network (OLN) has begun airing  Descending,  a scuba adventure TV series that uses the new Red One digital video camera to get hyper-real footage from the bottom of Lake Ontario to the wild waters of New Zealand.
The Red One, built by the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company (founded by Oakley owner Jim Jannard) is in the vanguard of the next generation of digital broadcast cameras.  Relatively small, pretty cheap ($25,000, not counting the  70 lb Gates waterproof housing) the Red has the ability to shoot highly detailed video images in very low light, far outstripping the capability of high def TV sets to show such amazing quality.  Underwater the Red One sees and records images more accurately than the human eye.
This year’s Underworld Awakening horror movie was made using the Red.  The TV series Justified is filmed with the same camera.  The makers of the new series Descending, believe they are the first dive show on television in North America to use the Red.
"Our cinematographer Andre Dupuis bought two  ... One is a back-up, and so far we haven't had a (catastrophic flooding of the housing) " said Descending on-air host Scott Wilson.  " 70% of the planet is underwater.  We are taking viewers to see what most of us have been missing, so it is important that the footage is spectacular."
According to the Brantford, Ontario resident, his new weekly one-hour show explores some of the planet's "most remote locations." 
The Outdoor Life Network (OLN TV) has already begun airing Wilson’s underwater TV series. Over the course of the 13-week series viewers will be seeing high definition video images shot offshore of the Sudan, Vancouver Island, South Africa and the Sea Of Cortez among many other dive destinations.
Wilson is no stranger to adventure television.  Descending is an offshoot of Departure, his successful above-water OLN TV adventure show.
“ I am not the world’s best diver. I only learned to dive just before Descending became a reality,” explained the show’s co-host. “ I took my PADI lessons from dive instructors in Toronto and did my open water in places like Cambodia and New Guinea!”
I want people to be inspired, educated and enlightened, with hopefully a laugh or two along the way,” said New Zealand diver, author and adventurer, Ellis Emmett. The author of five adventure books and the owner of a New Zealand river rafting company is the co-host of Descending.
With two rugged buff hosts, Descending is very much a man’s view on diving.  (The only female diver seen in the opening show is camera assistant Anna Brenzinger, a former Vancouver fashion model.) Emmett and Wilson dive deep (their sport dive limit is 130 to 140 ft), dive in tough conditions (everything from heavy current to cold arctic water) and with Great White sharks.
In Episode One they hunt for New Zealand lobsters in rough seas.  The big lobsters are caught by hand, brought back to shore, cooked over a roaring driftwood beach fire and served with Kiwi beer!
This year the hosts do all their exploring on scuba, wearing full-face masks and wearing Bare dry suits.  For Year Two they plan to switch to rebreathers and when needed, mixed gases.
 With government backing and the support of the Outdoor Life Network, Descending joins a long list of Canadian made underwater TV series that have found strong audience support.  Although only available in Canada, Wilson is very optimistic that other networks, in other countries will pick up his underwater series soon.

CUTLINE: The two hosts gave media interviews at the downtown studios of City TV in downtown Toronto, Canada in February. Pictured are: left - Ontario TV producer and host of Descending Scott Wilson right: New Zealand adventurer, Descending TV host Ellis Emmet.

Photograph - Stephen Weir

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Alain Paiement - Outsider Comes Inside! Scotiabank Photography Award

Montreal's Finest
 Text  and video links(s) in English and French for an article/video posting for Huffington Post

Alain Paiement - photograph by Stephen Weir
Alain Paiement, Montreal photographer is one of three finalists nominated for the Scotiabank Photography Award (SPA) 2012, the largest annual peer reviewed celebration of excellence in Canadian contemporary photography. It is designed to raise the international profile of Canada's leading photographic artists.
Trois photographes canadiens bien connus ont été choisis comme finalistes du Prix de photographie Banque Scotia (PPBS). (Scotiabank Photography Award) Il constitue la principale célébration annuelle de l'excellence évaluée par les pairs dans le domaine de la photographie contemporaine au Canada

See the English Video
Alain Paiement and his Montreal studio/home photo-Stephen Weir

See the French Video

Videos were edited and posted by George Socka - Beach Digital

Judy Swann passes

 Humber Bay Dive Incident: 58-year old woman passes in Toronto hospital

I recently volunteered to help the Ontario Underwater Council research and write fatality reports - accurate information about accidents that occur in the Province while people are diving. The reports are meant to give reliable/factual data to the dive community and to make recommendations on how to make the sport safer (based on the facts of the incident).
I had hoped I would go the whole year without having to work on a report.  Sadly that is not the case. A 58-year old woman died this week following a Friday April 13th incident in Toronto at Lake Ontario's Humber Bay. What follows is the report that has been posted on the Ontario Underwater Council web site.  It is reposted here because I write about diving and have built up a following of visitors looking for scuba information.

Location of the park. Not accurate as to the location of the incident
Date of Incident: 2012-04-13

A woman was brought up from the waters of Lake Ontario and police received a 911 call at
1:18 PM on Friday. Judy Swann was standing in her new drysuit with her husband in the
water offshore of Humber Bay Park (just west of the mouth of the Humber River) in Toronto,
when she became unresponsive and fell over into the cold water.
According to televised eyewitness reports, the woman was not showing vital signs when pulled
from the water by Elliott Cristofoli, whom police are describing as a “good Samaritan”. CPR
was administered by Cristofoli and others on land. The Toronto Police Marine Unit informed
the OUC that when EMS arrived, the woman did not have a pulse and CPR and life-saving
efforts continued.
Mr. Cristofoli, who has been interviewed by the OUC, also assisted the husband, who was
having trouble breathing and was distressed, to exit the water. Eric’s drysuit was halfway on,
had flooded and he was having difficulty moving in the water.
"From our understanding, she was with her husband and I guess she was trying some new
gear out in the water and she fell into the water and as a result she was submerged into the
water for a period of time...” said official police spokesperson P.C. Tony Vella, shortly after the
accident. The victim was taken to Toronto’s St Joseph’s Health Centre where she passed
away on Sunday April 15th.
The Marine Unit informed the OUC that the victim’s tank had air and that all gear was found to
be in working condition.
“On Friday, April 13th, my mother Judy Swann was involved in an accident at Humber Bay
Park. She had some sort of traumatic attack which all testing indicated to be a heart attack. At
this point, she slipped under the surface and drowned,” wrote her son Graeme on the Ontario
Diving bulletin board.
“Mom was pulled from the water and CPR got her heart started again. She was rushed to St.
Joseph's hospital a very short distance from the scene of the accident,” he continued. “Mom
was in intensive care for 51 hours. A neurologist confirmed our worst fears and pronounced
her brain clinically dead. At approximately 5pm on April 15th my mother, Judy Swann died as
a result of her accident. The level of care and compassion as St. Joseph's was incredible. At
this time, our family is asking for our privacy.”
According to the past president of the Ontario Underwater Council, Raimund Krob, who was
on the water close to the scene when the incident occurred, the “weather was sunny and
winds (& waves) were out of the south-west and mild”. Cristofoli reported that the water
temperature was 6 degrees at the surface.
Although the Federal Government’s Toronto Port Authority controls much of Toronto’s
waterfront and requires permits to dive in those areas of Lake Ontario, the couple was in an
area outside the TPA jurisdiction and no permits were required. Humber Bay Park West is a
popular year-round dive site for Toronto and area divers, and offers easy access shore entries
into Lake Ontario.

This Report Reccomends

Before diving in unfamiliar waters, consult on all critical aspects of the dive and the location
with a diver who is experienced with that site, and if possible, have that diver accompany you.
Buddy teams of divers should gear up together, and enter the water fully-geared up with
regulators in mouths, etc., together.
Dry suit divers in particular should ensure their dry-suits are zipped completely closed before
entering the water.
Divers should try out new equipment in a pool-like-setting before trying it out in open water
(many retailers and clubs book pools for precisely this purpose).
Certain types of scuba equipment (e.g. dry suit) may be easier and safer to use with
appropriate Instruction/Training beforehand. If you have any questions as to whether
Instruction/Training might apply to your scuba equipment acquisition, ask your local scuba
professional (Retailer, Instructor, etc.).
The OUC should look at better and more visible ways of communicating its Ontario Scuba
Diving Incident and Prevention Report.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Best of Facebook

Stephen Weir in costume as the Greek Chorus
A Review About My Toronto Stage Debut At Harbourfront

Pictured I am on stage at Toronto's Harbourfront, in the midst of my acting debut.  My wife and I and 4 of our friends were 20% of the Greek chorus in two short plays Ajax and Little Iliad. The mask was integral part of my costume.
The pair of plays were written and performed by hometown guys Eban Webber and Frank Cox-Connell. They had a 5-performance run at the Enwave Theatre as part of Harbourfront’s annual World Stage Theatre. 
The two short plays took a 21st century Social Media generation approach to the telling of one the (mostly) lost Greek epic plays, which chronicled the Trojan Wars.  What is left of the Little Iliad is thought to been written in the middle of the 7th century BC.
Webber and Cox-Connell's first short play frame their take on the Little Iliad by portraying two friends talking on Skype.  Eban Webber (playing himself) is on stage while the Cox-O'Connell appears as a Skype transmission projection on a piece of clay sitting main stage.  
It is the night before Cox-O'Connell is set to be deployed in Asia and he is talking to his friend while a girlfriend's family barbeque a farewell meal. They joke. They fight. They muse about Afghanistan and how Canada's conflict has many similarities with the ancient questions of morality and war that are raised in the Little Iliad. Meanwhile the SRO audience of just 30 people listens to the back-and-forth dialogue through headphones.
Wednesday was opening night, and we the audience was treated to free beer during the intermission.  Of course in the theatre world, nothing is free.  Along with cans of Bud we received white masks and were asked to wear them for Ajax, the second play.
We were sitting on the stage, facing an almost empty theatre. There was but one person sitting in the theatres and he is wearing the outfit of a Trojan warrior. The warrior looks up tells us we, the audience, are the faceless Greek chorus and that we have now switched roles with the cast.  After two beers, it was an easy role to accept.
Before long, another Greek soldier sits down and the two men joke and kibitz about Ajax and the Trojan War.  The story tugs at long forgotten high school history class’s lessons.  I vaguely remember that Ajax is Greece's most accomplished warriors, yet, as the soldiers' tale reveals, he is about to rebel against his own leaders because they have betrayed him on the battlefield. He might be good in hand-to-hand combat, but, as a mutineer, he is hopeless and ends up deciding to kill himself.
The action, such that it is, is shown to we, the members of the Greek chorus by the two toga-wearing actors playing with clay figurines. The action is swift, the clay arms and heads are lopped off and the soldiers joke as they come in-and-out of character.
The play ends with the cast and crew inviting the audience to beer and a real barbecue post party.  My wife and I have brought four friends, and, represent about 20% of the ticket buyers.  The old 80/20 rule worked -- 20% of the audience drank 80% of the beer and ate 80% of the hamburgers and hot dogs (I am fasting today to make up for my excess).
You probably have never heard of this play. It has been and gone.  Aside from a preview story in the Now and a Friday review in the Globe and Mail, the arts media gave it all a pass.
Want my  brief review? The two actors were good. The story line was interesting even though it involved two actors playing with clay puppets.  As for the Greek chorus - they were top-notch. I was spectacular. Feeding free burgs and beer the auidence is a concept I hope most theatres will adopt.
Would I go back and see it again? Of course ... they had me at the free beer!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Journalists use linked in information for criminal investigation pieces

(as published in Huffington Post -

Stephen Weir

LinkedIn Privacy Alert - Telephone, Telegraph and Tell a Publicist

LinkedIn With Investigative Journalists - Maybe You Want To Drop Me Soon

Yesterday, for the second time in a month an investigative criminal reporter has called me looking for info on people that I am linked into through the popular business social network.
This time it was concerning a case of medical fraud, and one of my Linkedin  contacts was related to a doctor arrested in the US. 
The Star was trying to reach Toronto relatives for comment. My Linkedin contact, a member of the media himself, was related directly to this doctor.
At the beginning of the month the Globe and Mail was asking for Linkedin information that would help the paper contact a woman about to be charged over an insider trading issue (gold stocks).
Their calls kicked off an internal ethical debate.  You see, I am a trained journalist, I live to write about diving, the ocean and anything we swim in. But, freelance writing journalism, being  one of the lowest paying jobs on the planet,  requires non-writing support to keep the car payments on sched.  So,  I am also a very active publicist with contacts in many different communities around the world. I work in the arts, in the Caribbean community, in our country's publishing industry and even the world of the wrongly convicted. 
One side of me wants to help out any reporter looking for assistance in any  legal way possible. The other side of me is wondering if my Linkedin connection information is subject to privacy concerns, and I should not willing give out numbers, email addresses and job information.
Background: I was quick to jump on the Linkedin bandwagon. In the early days almost everyone I approached to link agreed to sign up with me. As a result I have two accounts, one with over 1,500 connections, the other with 600 or so.  According to Linkedin I have over 9 million colleagues in terms of  first, second and third level signees.
It works both ways. Lately I have been getting Linkedin requests from real estate agents from Atlanta, investment accountants from New York and even IR experts working in Nigeria.  I weed out the insurance agents, sex trade workers and tax specialist, but,  link with almost everyone else.
So, in reality the vast majority of people on my two network are unknown to me. Do I owe these vast group of strangers some sort of privacy protection? People who become my contacts decide themselves as to what information they are going to give me, so,  should I consider their data as being public information?
Giving private information to a publicist is not like talking to a reporter off-the-record. As a journalist your secret is safe with me.  As a publicist? You must be kidding.  It would be hard to convince the police or the courts that a public relations person could "protect his sources".
In reality a publicist will sing loud, long and probably pay for the drinks (receipt please).  The world used to say the three best ways to get information out - telephone, telegraph and tell a publicist.
Question: So what did I do?  In the first case, I was actually once removed from the person being investigated for exchange irregularities.  I had no idea who she was.  I was Linkedin to this woman through a connection with the Wine Ladies radio show. Believe we were all involved in a community  fundraiser. I told the Globe the connection and left it at that.
In the case of the doctor arrested in the US, I did phone my Linkedin in contact ( I have him in my own data base ) and asked if it was alright to provide the Star with his number. He said yes. I did. They talked. Then the Star called again wanting contact information on other family members.
Given the size and scope of my data base, what will I do the next time I get a  media call? Don't know. Depends on how moral I am feeling at the time.
I have an eclectic life. I used to believe in that philosophy that says you are the sum of the five people you most hang-out with. Nowadays does that apply to Linked In friends as well? If so, maybe I should purge? Or more importantly, should you the reader, review your on-line data and flush me out of your maililng list? ( I wouldn't blame you).

Monday, 2 April 2012

500 (or so) got wrecked on the week-end in Welland, Ontario

18th annual Shipwreck Festival sets a record for number of paid attendees

Over 500 wreck aficionados crowded into a high school theatre in Welland to hear North America's top shipwreck experts talk about their latest underwear finds.  Shipwreck 2012, Ontario's largest underwater event, is  an annual symposium staged by the Niagara Dive Association (NDA).  This year's wreckstock set an attendance record.
" We reached that magical number of 500 paid attendance" said volunteer organizer Ian Marshall on Saturday at the Welland Centennial High School, just as the Shipwreck 2012 conference was wrapping up, "We do know that we sold over 500 passes, but, there were a number of  divers who bought tickets but didn't them up so the actual attendance will be a little lower than tickets sold. But, of course, we have to add in all the unpaid exhibitors and speakers numbers too, to find out how many made it here this year. Going to be next week before we get the final tally."
Jill Heinerth and Robert McClellan
Key note speaker was Canadian technical diving expert and underwater cinematographer Jill Heinerth. A pioneering underwater explorer and filmmaker, she has dived deeper into caves than any woman in history. 
Heinerth, along with her diving husband Robert McCellan live most of the year near a freshwater cave in Florida. The pair returned to Ontario in March to visit her family and to give two presentations for the NDA.  One was about the challenges of making movies in dangerous environments - from the bottom of the Great Lakes to Siberia.  Her second talk?  A mystery story surrounding the disappearance of a man in a Florida cave.
She and her husband Robert McClellan wrote a feature article  about the strange case  of Ben McDaniel,  a cave diver who was seen entering Vortex Springs in northern Florida two years ago but has not been seen since!   Was it murder, or misadventure? That article is the basis of a movie the pair is working on, and they previewed a few minutes from "Ben's Vortex" at the shipwreck convention.
"His body has not been found, even though almost every inch of that cave have been searched by some of the most experienced cave divers in Florida" said Heinerth. "People are still looking for him. "
The pair are concerned that a $30,000 reward for the retrieval of McDaniel's body is causing experienced divers to take unnecessary chances looking for the man.  " There was a death last week;" said McClellan.  "A very experienced cave diver, and we believe he died looking for the body."
Since Shipwreck, the parents of McDaniel have rescinded their reward offer. The Florida News Herald reported that the "decision was made because of concern that inexperienced divers could get killed while searching for their son. It came not long after the death of 43-year-old Larry Higginbotham of Biloxi, Miss., in March in Vortex Spring."

Chris Kohl and Joan Forsberg, had a book booth at the Welland Shipwreck festival. One of the books for sale was Kohl's book about the many Great Lake area residents who perished on the Titanic.

Cris Kohl, one of Ontario's first Great Lakes shipwreck authors and a longtime contributor to Diver Magazine spoke at the Welland symposium. A graduate of Windsor University Kohl and his wife, marine historian, Joan Forsberg now live in Chicago (although they do maintain an apartment in Windsor).
This  was Kohl's first presentation at shipwreck in 16-years, so it was fitting that he gave an updated version of the first presentation ever given at the very first "Shipwrecks" show in 1995. based on Cris Kohl's books, "Dive Ontario!" and "The Great Lakes Diving Guide." His most recent book is the expanded The Great Lakes Diving Guide, the most comprehensive book ever published about Great Lakes shipwrecks. 

Below:Georgann and Mike Wachter are regular speakers at Shipwreck