Death of Bradley Westell

Last updated
Death of Bradley Westell
Date31 July 1995 (1995-07-31)
Location North Sea, Scotland
CauseUmbilical drawn into vessel thruster
ParticipantsBradley Westell
Deaths1 (Westell)
TrialCase No. T960640, Regina v. Kenneth Roberts [1]

Bradley Westell was a British commercial diver who died on 31 July 1995 in the North Sea off Bacton, Norfolk after his umbilical was dragged into one of the thrusters of the diving support vessel Stena Orelia. The accident led to the 1997 conviction of diving supervisor Kenneth Roberts for perverting the course of justice. [2] [3] Roberts received the first prison sentence ever given for a crime committed offshore by a person working in the North Sea oil industry. [4]

North Sea marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean

The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. An epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north. It is more than 970 kilometres (600 mi) long and 580 kilometres (360 mi) wide, with an area of 570,000 square kilometres (220,000 sq mi).

Bacton, Norfolk village in the United Kingdom

Bacton is a village and civil parish in Norfolk, England. It is on the Norfolk coast, some 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-east of Cromer, 40 kilometres (25 mi) north-west of Great Yarmouth and 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Norwich. Besides the village of Bacton, the parish includes the nearby settlements of Bacton Green, Broomholm, Keswick and Pollard Street. It also includes Edingthorpe, which was added to Bacton civil parish under the County of Norfolk Review Order, 1935.

Diving support vessel A ship used as a floating base for professional diving projects

A diving support vessel is a ship that is used as a floating base for professional diving projects.

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The Johnson Sea Link accident was a June 1973 incident that claimed the lives of two divers. During a seemingly routine dive off Key West, the submersible Johnson Sea Link was trapped for over 24 hours in the wreckage of the destroyer USS Fred T. Berry, which had been sunk to create an artificial reef. Although the submersible was eventually recovered by the rescue vessel A.B. Wood II, two of the four occupants died of carbon dioxide poisoning: 31-year-old Edwin Clayton Link and 51-year-old diver Albert Dennison Stover. The submersible's pilot, Archibald "Jock" Menzies, and ichthyologist Robert Meek survived. Over the next two years, Edwin Link designed an unmanned Cabled Observation and Rescue Device (CORD) that could free a trapped submersible.

<i>Wildrake</i> diving accident Fatal offshore diving accident in Scotland, 1979

The Wildrake diving accident was an incident in Scotland in August 1979 that claimed the lives of two American commercial divers. During a seemingly routine dive in the East Shetland Basin of the North Sea, the diving bell of the diving support vessel MS Wildrake became separated from its main lift wire at a depth of over 160 metres (520 ft). Although the bell was eventually recovered by Wildrake, its two occupants, 32-year-old Richard Arthur Walker and 28-year-old Victor Francis "Skip" Guiel Jr., died of hypothermia. The accident resulted in extensive subsequent litigation and led to important safety changes in the diving industry.

The Star Canopus diving accident was an incident in Scotland in November 1978 that claimed the lives of two British commercial divers. During a routine dive beside the Beryl Alpha platform in the North Sea, the diving bell of the diving support vessel MS Star Canopus was lost when its main lift wire, life support umbilical, and guide wires were severed by an anchor chain of the semi-submersible Haakon Magnus. The bell dropped to the seabed at a depth of over 100 metres (330 ft). Its two occupants, 25-year-old Lothar Michael Ward and 28-year-old Gerard Anthony "Tony" Prangley, were unable to release the bell's drop weight in order to return to the surface because it was secured to the bell frame with secondary locking pins. Since there was not a bell stage to keep the bottom door of the bell off the seabed, the divers could not exit the bell to release the pins. Despite the efforts of three rescue vessels – Intersub 4, Tender Carrier, and Uncle John – the bell was not recovered for over thirteen hours, by which time Ward and Prangley had died of hypothermia and drowning.

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The Drill Master diving accident was an incident in Norway in January 1974 that claimed the lives of two Ocean Systems' commercial divers. During a two-man dive from the North Sea rig Drill Master, the diving bell's drop weight was accidentally released, causing the bell to surface from a depth of 320 feet (98 m) with its bottom door open and drag the diver working outside through the water on his umbilical. The two divers, Pier Skipness and Robert John Smyth, both died from rapid decompression and drowning. The accident was caused by instructions aboard Drill Master which had not been updated when the bell system was modified and which stated that a valve should be closed during the dive which should have been open.

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Eighteen months after the Wildrake diving accident, the Thistle SALM was the site for another bell diving accident.

Three miles east of the North Cormorant oil field in the North Sea, the crew on board the drill rig Venture One was preparing to lower a Blow Out Preventer (BOP) to the seabed 510 feet (160 m) below. It was 10 May 1977, and International Underwater Contractors (IUC) diving supervisor Richard Pettit had been asked to inspect the Permanent Guide Base to verify that it was clear of any obstructions that might prevent the installation of the BOP.

The safety of underwater diving depends on four factors: the environment, the equipment, behaviour of the individual diver and performance of the dive team. The underwater environment can impose severe physical and psychological stress on a diver, and is mostly beyond the diver's control. Equipment is used to operate underwater for anything beyond very short periods, and the reliable function of some of the equipment is critical to even short term survival. Other equipment allows the diver to operate in relative comfort and efficiency. The performance of the individual diver depends on learned skills, many of which are not intuitive, and the performance of the team depends on communication and common goals.

Investigation of diving accidents includes investigations into the causes of reportable incidents in professional diving and recreational diving accidents, usually when there is a fatality or litigation for gross negligence.


  1. Smart, Michael (2011). Into the Lion's Mouth: The Story of the Wildrake Diving Accident. Medford, Oregon: Lion's Mouth Publishing. pp. 387, 424 note 23. ISBN   978-0-615-52838-0. LCCN   2011915008.
  2. "Supervisor cleared over diver's death". The Herald (Glasgow) . 22 July 1997. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  3. Limbrick, Jim (2001). North Sea Divers - a Requiem. Hertford: Authors OnLine. pp. 176–178. ISBN   0 7552 0036 5.
  4. Smart 2011 , pp. 358, 387