JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax has confirmed the death of a second student diver at CDA Technical Institute this year.
We told you last week that a student diver at the Jacksonville commercial diving school died during a training exercise in the Trout River. The student was identified as 41-year-old Fausto Martin.
Martin told instructors his dive helmet was filling up with water, according to a police report. His brother, Jose, confirmed Fausto’s helmet was full of water when his body was pulled from the water.
Now we’re learning that a second student drowned two months prior during a dive in Flamingo Lake, according to a newly obtained report.
Family identified the victim as 34-year-old Victor Pierce, a husband and father of two.
Action News Jax has spoken to many former and current students and instructors since the Apr. 14 incident, who claim there were problems at the school.
Michael Barron was a 35-year veteran diver in 2014 when he said he was hired as a freshman instructor at CDA where he worked for five years. He told Action News Jax Tuesday that he was stunned to hear two student divers died in seemingly back-to-back incidents.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Barron said.
During his time at CDA, Barron says he instructed students on the fundamentals of diving, such as how to get water out of a helmet and what to do in an emergency situation—situations like the one he believes Martin found himself in last week.
According to Pierce’s Feb. drowning report, one of the instructors was 26-years-old. Barron told us that’s too young to be teaching divers. “You’re eight to ten years in at that point before you should be teaching a class.”
Christopher Martin, a former dive student who went on to work as a CDA instructor for two years accused the school of cutting corners with safety protocols and says he wants it to be shut down. “There’s too many of us that know about it and we’re sick of it.”
Martin says he ultimately left the school after witnessing repeated unsafe practices.
The report states alcohol intoxication contributed to Pierce’s death, but both Martin and Barron say if an instructor suspected any students of being under the influence, the student should never have been allowed in the water.
“Every instructor is supposed to inspect their diver before they get in the water up to and including an alcohol breathalyzer test,” Barron told us.
One student who wished to remain anonymous had concerns over the safety of the equipment, alleging his school-issued gear has failed twice during underwater training. The student said he bought his own gear fearing the school’s equipment would fail at deeper and more dangerous depths.
A petition created Monday is now calling for student diving operations to be suspended. As of Tuesday afternoon, it’s been signed by hundreds of people.
“We have put together a petition to be signed by all diving personnel to force CDA to cease and desist all diving operations until the investigations of the two diver deaths in the last month and a half are completed and they are cleared,” Victor Rivera said in a Facebook live video Monday.
Action News Jax received the calls of service to CDA over the past ten years and discovered JSO was called to the school 356 times, including for suicides, assaults, and other disputes.
We reached out to CDA once again and were told no comment.
CDA is one of only a handful of fully accredited commercial diver training programs in the United States.
It is a line of technical work that is known for being uniquely hazardous and highly lucrative.
Underwater welders maintain and repair underwater structures such as undersea pipes, offshore structures, and nuclear power plants. Some of the most common dangers faced by underwater welders include electric shock, explosions, drowning, decompression sickness, as well as the physical wear and tear that comes working under high-pressure conditions.
The typical salary varies, but some commercial divers report making upwards of $300,000 a year.
In the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports the majority of commercial divers are employed in Florida, Louisiana, Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
The annual mean wage of commercial divers by state:
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