Clues suggest pure oxygen may factor in fatal St. Petersburg scuba tank blast

Posted: 09/14/2011 in all marine news

Jamal Thalji – 

A witness getting his morning newspaper told police he saw a bright flash when a scuba tank exploded early Sunday morning.

The man holding the tank, avid diver Russell Vanhorn II, suffered what appeared to be burns in the blast that took his life and destroyed the condo he was standing in, according to St. Petersburg police.

As investigators continued their search Monday for answers in the puzzling blast, those potential clues suggest pure oxygen could have played a role in the explosion that killed the 23-year-old Iraq war veteran.

“That signifies to me that oxygen was involved and not just compressed air,” said Doug Jackson, vice president of Bill Jackson’s Shop For Adventure and a certified diving instructor and trainer. Jackson said pure oxygen increases the risk of fire and explosion.

Most recreational divers use compressed air — the same mix of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen we all breathe on land — in their pressurized cylinders. But pure oxygen is used for much more advanced and riskier diving, such as cave or deep diving.

Pure oxygen can be used for decompression, for example, to help divers purge themselves of nitrogen before surfacing from deep depths. That’s to prevent decompression sickness: gas bubbles that can develop in the body and cause pain, paralysis and even death.

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