Cape Town - Something happened to drowned US tourist Chris Tallman that incapacitated him, preventing his opportunity to escape from a capsized shark cage diving boat.
This was according to expert evidence heard in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday in a multimillion-rand damages case. The lawsuit was instituted by Tallman’s widow Sarah, who is claiming $2.2 million (about R24m) for loss of support.
At this stage of the case, however, the court is set to determine only whether the three defendants – the vessel, Shark Team; the skipper Grant Tuckett, and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects – are liable for damages.
Shark Team capsized on April 13, 2008, after being hit by a wave off the coast of Kleinbaai. Tallman was one of three people who died, along with his best friend Casey Lajeunesse and Norwegian Kenneth Rogue.
Michael Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, concluded that it was probable that Tallman drowned within the first two to three minutes of submersion, and that rescuers wouldn’t have been able to resuscitate him after 10 to 15 minutes of submersion.
He further concluded that it was improbable that Tallman would have had a pulse after 40 minutes of submersion in 12.7°C water.
Tipton, who is a witness for the defendants, compiled a report after reading documentation about the incident. It was his belief that Tallman had had a fairly rapid demise.
He testified that Tallman had had an opportunity to escape had he swam out from under the boat in the first 15 or 20 seconds following the capsize. This would also have been possible if he had had an airpocket. “Something happened in the very first seconds that incapacitated Mr Tallman,” Tipton said.
He said “cold shock response”, which involved an uncontrollable gasp when in cold water, impacting a person’s ability to hold their breath, could have been responsible; however, there had also been suggestions that Tallman had been rendered unconscious.
Tallman, he said, had perhaps been confused or dazed and would “certainly” have been disorientated as a result of the vessel turning completely upside down.
According to Tipton’s evidence, Tallman would only have been able to hold his breath for 15 to 30 seconds.
Tipton is still under cross-examination, which continues today.