Widow sues diving company, others

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THE wife of John Jones, who went missing at the Grotto in Nov. 2018, has filed a lawsuit in the federal court against a diving company, among other defendants, and is seeking damages for negligence and wrongful death.

Madelyn Ann Jones is suing the Professional Association of Dive Instructors or PADI, Axe Murderer Tours LLC and Harry Blalock, Green Flash LLC, and Joe McDoulett for negligence, wrongful death, and breach of consumer protection act. She is demanding a jury trial.

Variety was unable to get a comment from any of the defendants.

Represented by attorney William M. Fitzgerald, Mrs. Jones is asking the court for a monetary award for damages with interest; an award of attorney’s fees, other costs and expenses; and other relief the court deem just and proper.

According to the lawsuit, when Typhoon Yutu made landfall on Saipan in October 2018, the island’s international airport sustained significant damage.

John Jones, a 65-year-old employee of the Federal Aviation Administration for 30 years, was sent to Saipan to aid in the recovery efforts at the airport.

On Nov. 18, 2018, Mr. Jones had a day off and decided to go scuba diving with a fellow employee, Dana Couto. Being unfamiliar with the waters around Saipan, the pair sought a professional scuba diving guide and was informed that Blalock was a professional dive instructor, certified by PADI, the largest scuba diving agency in the world, the lawsuit stated.

Couto and Mr. Jones contacted Blalock and his dive tour company, Axe Murderer, on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, to see if Blalock could take them diving on Nov. 18.

Blalock agreed and recommended that they dive in the Grotto the next day, the lawsuit stated.

It added that Blalock met Jones and Couto on the morning of Nov. 18, at their hotel and drove them to the Green Flash shop to pick up oxygen tanks for the dive. At that point, McDoulett joined the group. McDoulett worked at Green Flash and was a dive instructor there.

According to the lawsuit, PADI standards require a formal diving orientation or briefing that allows divers to plan the dive and dive the plan. PADI further advises against engaging in cave or cavern diving unless specifically trained to do so he added.

Fitzgerald said neither “Blalock nor McDoulett asked about Jones’ diving experience; they did not inform Jones of the level of difficulty and experience needed to safely dive in the Grotto; and they did not inform or obtain Jones’ consent as to the risks of harm, including the risks of harm arising from Defendants’ conduct, in participating in the dive.”

PADI standards required divers to adhere to a buddy system throughout every dive, the lawsuit stated, adding that a “buddy” assumes the responsibility for monitoring and assisting the other member of the “buddy” team at all times during a dive.

At the Grotto, the lawsuit alleged that Blalock and McDoulett decided not to buddy up with Jones and Couto, but to have Blalock lead the dive and McDoulett trail, with Jones and Couto in between them.

“At or about 9 a.m.,” the lawsuit stated, “the four divers entered the water at the Grotto, submerged and swam together through one of the underwater passages to outside the Grotto.”

PADI recommends 100 feet as the optimal limit and 130 feet as the absolute limit for recreational diving, the lawsuit stated.

“During the dive,” it added, “the group descended to a maximum depth of 111 feet. After approximately twenty-seven minutes into the dive, and when Jones and McDoulett were outside the Grotto in the Pacific Ocean, Jones signaled to McDoulett that he was running low on air. At that time, he was about 30 feet below the surface of the ocean. McDoulett turned away from Jones and swam to Blalock, who was just inside the Grotto at that time and used hand signals to inform Blalock and Couto that Jones was low on air. Blalock used hand signals to point towards the Grotto entrance and continued to swim through the Grotto without checking on Jones. McDoulett also began swimming towards the Grotto entrance without confirming that Jones was following him. After swimming a little bit, McDoulett turned back to look for Jones, but did not see Jones following him. Instead of checking on Jones, McDoulett swam to Blalock and gestured that Jones was missing. Blalock gestured to McDoulett that he should turn back and search for Jones. Blalock and Couto swam back into the Grotto through a passage without Jones. McDoulett swam in the other direction towards the ocean to search for Jones. After Blalock had surfaced with Couto within the Grotto, Blalock swam back through the passage to search for Jones.”

Blalock and McDoulett did not find Jones.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, and the CNMI Department of Public Safety searched for Jones for several days. The search was suspended on Nov. 24, 2018. Jones was never found.

A presumptive death certificate was issued on March 22, 2019 with a date of death of Nov. 18, 2018, the lawsuit stated.

Jones left behind a wife of 46 years, two children, five grandchildren, and his mother.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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