Scuba dive company in fatal accident has history of violations - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Scuba dive company in fatal accident has history of violations

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We are learning new information about the death of an Arizona police officer in a scuba diving accident off Sunset Cliffs this week.  News 8 has learned, not only did the victim run out of air, but he was diving with a local scuba company that has a long history of boating violations.

Divers searched for an hour Tuesday before they finally found the body of Daniel Forchione, 46, off Sunset Cliffs in 65 feet of water.  His weight belt was still around his waist, according to lifeguards.

Forchione was over weighted and surfaced in a panic when he ran out of air, San Diego lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma said.  "We do know he was out of air and his buoyancy compensator was released.  With his over weight and being tangled in the kelp, he sank to the bottom," Lerma told News 8.

Forchione is survived by his wife and 8-month-old daughter.

He was diving off a vessel named the D&D II, one of three boats currently operated by Dive Connections, Inc. out of Mission Bay.  News 8 has learned the company was involved in another fatal dive four years ago, while under different management.

"In June of 2005, there was a fatal accident involving a diver on the (sunken wreck) Yukon.  There was also an incident at Dog Beach when a vessel went aground," said Lerma.

Photos obtained by News 8 show the same Dive Connections boat, D&D II, beached on Dog Beach in Ocean Beach at night in October of last year.  Thirteen passengers reportedly escaped unharmed.

"The captain was very new and he took the vessel and missed the channel and ended up on Dog Beach," Lerma recalled.

Online records from the U.S. Coast Guard show a long history of mechanical and safety violations on various Dive Connections boats.  There was worn out equipment, failure to keep training logs, along with rudder and steering problems to name just a few of the deficiencies .

Coast Guard incident reports over the past five years detail medical problems with divers surfacing in distress, coughing up blood, running out of air, and having to be air lifted to local hospitals.

Dive Connections owner Richard Sillanpa, 52, told News 8 he's been a shareholder in the company since 2004 and started managing dive operations a year ago.  He did not want to answer News 8's questions on camera and closed the door when a producer approached his office on Mission Bay.

County court records also show a series of lawsuits filed by co-owners of Dive Connections in recent years claiming ownership of stock shares.

For others working in the dive industry, this latest scuba fatality comes as no surprise.

"I knew it was going to happen and can't believe it didn't happen sooner.  That's what when through my mind," Ryan Wilbarger of Waterhorse Charters told News 8.

Wilbarger runs a dive operation that competes with Dive Connections for customers.  He says he's heard horror stories from passengers who went scuba diving off Dive Connections boats.

"They run up on Dog Beach.  They run out of fuel at the Coronado (Islands).  You name it, they've done it," Wilbarger said.

Lifeguards say you can't always blame the dive boat operator for accidents that happen underwater, however.  That's because the dive master on board frequently stays on the boat and only supervises dives from above.

In this case, the San Diego Police Department's Harbor Unit is still investigating.  No criminal charges have been filed.

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