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ut as Thongsi went back below the water’s surface, versions of events differ.
Avei thought she was breathing as she went back under and saw bubbles emerge.
However, Chappell, who had been holding her hand, described her as showing no signs of life, looking through him, and sinking straight down.
Three inquest hearings were unable to establish who released air from Thongsi’s buoyancy compensator (BCD).
During the inquest Avei was questioned why just one “half-hearted search” was made after she disappeared below the water’s surface and why it took him nearly an hour before ringing 111.
“I was just hoping that she would come up,” Avei told the inquest, adding that after not being seen for four minutes, he didn’t think she would be alive.
On the shore, a volunteer fisheries officer reported “nothing felt right” about the way the skipper and his mates were reacting about losing a diver.
The varying accounts were hard for Coroner Windley to reconcile – and led to her making scathing remarks in her findings – although she stressed there was no suggestion anything sinister happened.
“They were largely poor witnesses who professed to be unable to recall, in a sensible and coherent fashion, an event which should have been highly memorable,” she said.
“They have also been unable to explain events which, in the absence of explanation, appear both remarkable and highly curious.
“Aside from their inability to explain how Ms Thongsi died, despite her very close physical proximity to them, they cannot satisfactorily explain the delay of more than an hour in seeking to summon assistance, or Mr Avei’s cursory rescue effort.”
She added that the group, and Avei in particular, showed an attitude to Thongsi’s death that “revealed none of the selflessness or urgency which I heard more typically accompanies a diving-related death”.
Avei’s behaviour, including the quick abandonment of a rescue dive and an anxiety to depart the scene, all indicated a “disturbing level of indifference” to Thongsi and her fate, the coroner found.
It all led to Coroner Windley being unable to make a finding as to her exact cause of death.
“Unfortunately, and sadly for Ms Thongsi, despite testing the evidence at length under oath over the course of three inquest hearings during 2018, and a thorough investigation being conducted by police, I cannot be satisfied, even on the balance of probabilities standard that applies to my jurisdiction, that the sequence of events which led to Ms Thongsi’s death has been fully disclosed,” the coroner says.
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In conclusion, the coroner stressed the importance of buddy diving and of skippers adhering to safety practices.
“I extend my condolences to the family and friends of Ms Thongsi for their loss,” Coroner Windley concluded.