Barry Roy Beale

Barry Roy Beale
Drowned at Sea; Body recovered
25 September 1997

Barry Roy Neale Coroner's Report Extract

Barry Roy Beale was a self-employed abalone diver and had leased an abalone licence for four years. He skippered a seven metre aluminium runabout with a rear centre console. His deckhand was Gary MacDonald.

On 25 September 1997, Beale and MacDonald went diving for brown lip abalone near Mason’s Bay, east of Hopetoun.

He started diving around 8.45am when he ran into trouble. He was wearing a full black 10mm wet suit with a 27 pound weight belt. Fitted to his back was a shark POD (Protective Oceanic Device) and a foot probe on his flipper. Shark POD’s were commonly worn by abalone divers after David Weir was fatally attacked by a shark on WA’s south coast in 1995. The shark POD and foot probe were attached by a cable that provided an electric field around the diver to keep sharks at bay.

Beale used a hookah unit to breathe while diving. He also had a homemade hydraulically driven underwater scooter, fitted with an abalone bag to store his catch. There was a petrol engine onboard mounted on a frame to provide power to the compressor, which supplied air to the hookah. The engine was also connected to a hydraulic pump which circulated hydraulic fluid to the scooter, and hot water to the diver to help maintain body warmth.

A cluster of four hoses were attached to the scooter and the diver. They were taped together until they reached the scooter. They included two high pressure hydraulic hoses attached to the pump and reservoir onboard, and to the scooter to provide power to the scooter. A high pressure air hose and hot water hose were coupled with the hydraulic hoses until they reached the scooter, then continued to the diver. These were long enough to allow the diver to work some distance from the scooter and go to the surface without it, if needed.

Beale had been diving for about 45 minutes at a depth of 17 metres, when he moved by scooter to an area he had worked the previous day. After 10 minutes, Macdonald lost sight of the diver’s air bubbles. He drove the boat up the line but still saw nothing. He spent a few minutes searching. He grabbed the air hose to get Beale’s attention. At first it seemed he was pulling back on the hose, so he let it go.

Macdonald still couldn’t see any bubbles and noticed that the air pressure gauge was constantly releasing air with a steady hissing sound. He realised something was seriously wrong, so he drove the boat so he could grab the hose. He pulled Beale to the surface and saw that his face was blue. He radioed another nearby abalone boat and told Dean Gaebler onboard that Beale had drowned. Gaebler told him to get Beale onboard and flagged to his own diver to surface. Peter Gaebler, Dean’s father, came to the surface, called Macdonald and instructed him to begin resuscitation.

Macdonald saw that the shark POD cable was still hanging in the water, so he pulled it up and saw Beale’s weight belt tangled in the cable. Macdonald steamed back to Starvation Bay.

When he arrived, nearby recreational fishers assisted Macdonald.

Dean and Peter Gaebler arrived short afterwards. Looking at the scooter unit, the Gaebler’s saw that the air and hot water hose had become entangled in the unit. This would have cut off the air supply. The weight belt had also been caught in the cable connecting the POD main pack, to the fin place. It appears Beale had tried to get rid of the weight belt, but it had become caught up in the cable, preventing him from reaching the surface.

The inquest into Beale’s death concluded he had accidentally drowned while diving. It was also concluded that while this incident highlighted a number of potential dangers with abalone diving, the industry had addressed those issues and considerable work had been done on implementing safe working procedures.