Nurse says deadly scuba accident possibly avoidable

According to a nurse who was on a deadly scuba diving excursion, inactivity by the crew and faulty medical equipment were involved.

Horry County Deputy Coroner Tamara Willard says 43-year-old Karen Murphy of Massachusetts died while scuba diving in the ocean on Tuesday, and Registered Nurse and Carolina Forest resident Darlene Sterbenz was on that Coastal Scuba excursion.

"I've been shaking all day," said Sterbenz on Wednesday.

Sterbenz said around 9:50 a.m Tuesday, she, her friend and fellow Registered Nurse Debbie Warren and the crew of Coastal Scuba found Murphy floating in the ocean unresponsive.

According to Sterbenz and Warren, a young male employee of Coastal Scuba pulled Murphy on to the boat and that's when Sterbenz and Warren started trying to revive her.

But Sterbenz said that's when Coastal Scuba's crew failed to act.

"I said did you call the Coast Guard?" she said she barked to the boat's captain. "He said no."

The Coast Guard said its team was called sometime after 10 a.m., at least ten minutes after Sterbenz said Murphy was found.

Sterbenz said while they were trying to save Murphy's life on the boat, the divers Murphy had been diving with were still underwater.

"I said you need to get everyone on board. Where is the Coast Guard?"

Sterbenz also said the medical equipment on board was faulty with dry rotted emergency oxygen masks on board.

As for the tanks that attach to it, Sterbenz said the first was empty and an employee threw the other overboard.

"Poor young man kind of freaked out," said Sterbenz. "He said it's going to blow, and he threw the oxygen overboard."

Horry County EMS and the Coast Guard met the boat on the way back to shore.

The coroner's office later pronounced Murphy dead.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokesperson Leslie Yancey said Station 2's emergency rescue ocean vessel has been out of service for two weeks due to motor issues.

The boat is currently being repaired and has been for the amount of time it's been out of service, said Yancey.

Tow vessels near the station took medics to Coastal Scuba's boat, said Yancey.

"I don't know if the outcome was going to be different, but I knew we would have had a better chance," said Sterbenz.

On Wednesday, Coastal Scuba continued operations as usual.

NewsChannel 15 asked Coastal Scuba's manager, Cameron Sebastian, about Sterbenz's allegations about the faulty equipment.

He said they couldn't comment but they are cooperating with the investigation.

"At this time, the U.S. Coast Guard is doing an investigation, and the coroner is doing an autopsy to determine what the possible cause of death was," said Sebastian.

When asked if they had any other diving related deaths, Sebastian responded, "It happens occasionally in this business. If you've been in it long enough, it can happen from time to time."

The coroner's office said finding the cause of death could take as long as 12-14 weeks.

NewsChannel 15 asked the Coast Guard for information about Coastal Scuba and its records over the past five years, including if there have been any violations and if anyone else has died under their supervision.

The Coast Guard is expected to turn over that information in the next few days.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issues small water craft advisories for commercial boats.

NOAA said at the time of the accident it advised boats to exercise with caution with waves four to five feet high.