Broome Paspaley pearl diver joking one minute, a ‘deadweight’ the next

Headshot of Shannon Hampton
Shannon HamptonThe West Australian
Pearl diver Jarrod Hampton.
Camera IconPearl diver Jarrod Hampton. Credit: ABC1

An inquest has been told how a pearl diver was "happy and appeared normal" in the moments before he was pulled lifeless from the ocean off WA's north-coast "like a deadweight".

Victorian man Jarrod Hampton, 22, was working as a drift diver for Paspaley Pearling Company when he drowned off Eighty Mile Beach, south of Broome, in April, 2012.

Mr Hampton was one of five novice drift divers in a team of eight who were collecting wild pearl shells from the sea floor as they were being towed by the Paspaley II.

Giving evidence today, drift diver Joe Sinclair, who like Mr Hampton was working his first pearling season, described being called to the surface prematurely on the eighth dive of his second day.

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Reading his police statement to the court, Mr Sinclair said he had made his way to the deck of the boat when he heard the skipper shout "we need help, we've got a dead person".

Mr Sinclair said he looked down a ladder and saw two divers struggling to lift Mr Hampton, who he said "appeared lifeless", up to the vessel.

"He was like a deadweight," he said.

He said Mr Hampton was foaming from his mouth and his lips were "dark purple".

"I thought just by looking at him, Christ, he's dead," he said.

Mr Sinclair said the crew performed CPR for 51 minutes before they declared "there was nothing that could be done."

"Jarrod was in a body bag when I last saw him," he said.

The Paspaley II then set off on its return to Broome, which was met by police eight hours later.

Mr Sinclair said he shared a cabin and became close with Mr Hampton, who he described as a "fit, confident and very knowledgeable diver".

The drift diver, who still works for Paspaley, said he would have noticed if Mr Hampton was fatigued or did not feel up to diving.

He said Mr Hampton had been laughing with his colleagues on breaks between dives and said he was "happy and appeared normal" before the fatal dive.

The inquest was yesterday told Mr Hampton had surfaced prematurely and shouted for help twice before he descended again.

His dive watch, examined by police, revealed he may have been underwater for about seven minutes after he signalled for help.

Mr Hampton was not wearing a buoyancy compensation device, which investigating officer Sen. Const. Bradley Bell yesterday described as the "most significant factor" in his death.

Sen. Const. Bell also said Mr Hampton would "still be alive" if a dive supervisor was on deck to recognise he was in trouble and respond accordingly.

The inquest, which continues, is investigating what was done and not done by his employer at the time of Mr Hampton's death and what improvements have since been made.

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