AN EXPERIENCED diver died following an uncontrolled ascent off Portland, an inquest was told.

John Charles Ballinger, from Gwent, was among a party of divers from South Wales who visited an unnamed wreck 15 miles south west of Portland on May 16 on the Weymouth-based dive boat Skin-Deeper.

The 72-year-old was accompanied by two ‘dive buddies’ as he entered the water but they both told the hearing at County Hall in Dorchester that they had returned to the surface in the belief that they had seen Mr Ballinger making his way back up.

Dive boat skipper Leonard Hurdiss said all the other divers surfaced within a reasonably short space of time and they were looking around for Mr Ballinger’s surface marker buoy when they saw bubbles appearing in the water.

Eventually Geoffrey Townsend, one of Mr Ballinger’s dive buddies, went into the water in a bid to help him out and found him at a depth of 25 metres looking ‘a bit vacant’.

He said Mr Ballinger’s dive computer showed he still needed to make decompression stops and Mr Townsend said he tried to lead his buddy in a controlled ascent.

Mr Townsend said: “When I got to about 17 metres John went to the surface in an uncontrolled ascent.”

Mr Ballinger was able to get back on to the dive boat and skipper Mr Hurdiss said initially he was walking, although he appeared ‘disorientated and incoherent’.

He then took a turn for the worse and Mr Hurdiss contacted the Coastguard. The Coastguard helicopter was on the scene within 15 minutes and took Mr Ballinger to hospital but he later died.

Pathologist Dr Ian Calder said Mr Ballinger had died from gas embolism due to pulmonary barotrauma. He explained that the sudden ascent had caused a tearing of the lungs that caused gas to escape into his circulation and into the brain, triggering a stroke-like episode.

John Manners, a dive expert from Devon and Cornwall Police who investigated the death, said there was no fault with Mr Ballinger’s equipment, although his dive computer showed he had been experiencing difficulties with buoyancy throughout the ascent, possibly due to carrying too much weight.

Dorset coroner Sheriff Payne recorded a verdict that Mr Ballinger had died as a result of an accident.

He added: “He was otherwise a pretty fit man for his age who obviously enjoyed his diving.”