Thursday, August 25, 2005

Body of German sailor to be flown home for post mortem

The 24-year old German sailor involved in a fatal diving accident off the port of Algeciras on Monday was dead by the time he reached Gibraltar, military sources said yesterday.

But his fellow crewmen, Gibraltar Services Police officers and British military personnel in Gibraltar fought to the last to try and save his life.

The sailor, who has not been identified, was still receiving intensive medical treatment as his ship came alongside a berth at the South Mole.

In an effort to revive him, he was also given electrical shocks with a defibrillator by emergency medical teams working on the quayside.

Their efforts ultimately proved futile and the man was pronounced dead shortly after he was brought ashore. Doctors concluded that he had died while the ship was still at sea.

Headquarters British Forces Gibraltar said yesterday that the sailor’s body would now be flown back to Germany and the post mortem carried out by the authorities there.

“The German sailor died on board FGS Homburg at sea and therefore on German soil,” it said in a statement.

“The coroner, Mr Charles Pitto, was therefore content to release the body to the German authorities for the post mortem to be conducted in Germany.”

FGS HomburgThe German mine hunter had stopped at the Spanish port while en route to Crete to join a NATO task force when the incident happened.

Commander Udo Sparwel, a spokesman for the German navy, said the diver was on a “routine diving exercise for training purposes” while the ship was at anchorage off Algeciras.

“Presently we have no details about what went wrong…because the investigation is ongoing.”

Although details remain to be confirmed, the man appears to have suffered decompression sickness – which is usually caused by surfacing too rapidly from a deep dive – and required treatment in a decompression chamber. That would explain the choice of Gibraltar over Algeciras, even though the Spanish port was closer.

The authorities in the Spanish port are not equipped with a decompression chamber, while British forces on the Rock have two, including one that can accommodate several men.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the German navy said the man had already started decompression treatment in a chamber on board the mine hunter.

“The sailor was treated immediately in the diver decompression chamber on board the ship and given intensive medical care,” the statement said.

“Intensive care action was going on when Homburg reached Gibraltar,” added Commander Sparwel yesterday.

“At the moment the cause of death is under investigation and still not known.”

Luftwaffe GAF CL60 similar to the one mentioned in this news item - Picture courtesy of Rainer Bexten -
On Tuesday, a German CL60 military aircraft arrived in Gibraltar to drop off a “rapid response team” to deal with the aftermath of Monday’s accident. The team included trained counsellors and medics to help the rest of the ship’s crew to come to terms with the death.

Commander Jock Gordon, Commander Operations for Gibraltar, said that this was normal procedure following a death on board a navy vessel. He added:

“When serving at sea, you are working as part of a very close team away from loved ones.

This makes the death of a member of crew particularly difficult. So, many navies [including Britain’s Royal Navy] have in place rapid response teams to help members of the crew deal with tragedies such as this.”

Related Article:

24 August 2005 - German sailor dies in diving accident off Gibraltar's coast


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