Exploding cylinder kills Hector Duran

 Hector “Chapin” Duran, a veteran tour guide for the past 20 years, died when a scuba tank exploded as he was filling it on the dock of the Amigos Del Mar Dive Shop in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye.

The accident occurred around 4:45 Monday afternoon, October 8. The explosion sent a shard of metal into Duran, disemboweling him. He died shortly afterwards. 

An eyewitness reported seeing the remains of the tank shoot into the sea nearby, still spewing gas, as the loud explosion rocked the dive shop and other buildings nearby.

The Amigos Del Mar management has issued a press release lamenting the tragedy and announcing that it is cooperating fully with  authorities investigating the incident.

Fabrigas Belize Ltd. Plant Manager, Ezekiel Ayala, speculated on what may have happened.

The scuba tank was being filled from a distribution manifold supplied by a compressor. The manifold has a pressure gauge and allows several tanks to be filled at the same time.

But if the pressure gauge is giving a faulty reading, it may have caused Duran to inadvertently overfill the cylinder or exceed the rated pressure.

Ayala cautioned that pressure gauges need to be checked from time to time for accuracy and if necessary, re-calibrated.  Some compressors come with an automatic cut-off switch that will turn  the compressor off when it reaches the pressure for which it has been set.

The  aluminum scuba tank can heat up if it  is being filled  too quickly. If that is the case, and the heat build-up exceeds 131 degrees  Fahrenheit, the cylinder will explode.

A high-pressure aluminum cylinder does not have much elasticity for expansion when  heated, so overheating it by filling it too  quickly  could cause it to rupture.

Routine precautions in the use of scuba tanks also require that the integrity of each cylinder be checked regularly. There is first a visual inspection for any obvious faults.

The cylinder should also be submitted to a hydrostatic test. In such a test  it is filled with water, placed in a water jacket, and pressurized to see if it can withstand the pressure for which it is rated.

This also measures the elasticity of the metal tank, an important factor, because  the cylinder must expand to a certain degree when it is heated, and it does heat up when filled with compressed air.

Proper practice requires that the cylinder be filled slowly, to avoid overheating.

Without a government authority to monitor the dive industry to ensure compliance with safety regulations and best practice, the dive industry has been left to police itself until now.

“Perhaps this accident will prompt a review of existing regulations, and initiate better monitoring by the relevant authorities in the future”, Ayala said.

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