The above photo is of Chris Hawkins and was taken before the SCUBA tank explosion during
the summer of '97 while on vacation. (Chris is the good looking one with the hat.)
Click on One of the Following:
UPDATE ON CHRIS (updated 9/11/01)
DETAILS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SCUBA TANK BLAST (updated 3/21/98)
LIST OF SCUBA TANKS MADE FROM DEFECTIVE ALLOY (source DOT)
SCUBA TANK INSPECTION PROTOCOL CHECKLIST
SCUBA TANKS THAT EXPLODE WITHOUT FILLING (updated 9/11/01)
THE NEWEST VICTIM OF 6351-T6 (Coming Soon!)
ANOTHER VICTIM OF 6351-T6 ALUMINUM ALLOY
MARCH 17, 2000 - Bill Gordon, the owner of Admiral Dive Center in Key Largo had his left leg blown off just below the hip Friday when a 1987 Walter Kidde scuba tank that he was filling exploded. Mr. William Gordon is 66 years old and has been filling scuba tanks in his dive business for over 15 years. He lost his left leg when a 6-by-12-inch piece of shrapnel ripped through it. He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, but doctors were unable to reattach the leg after several hours of surgery. The doctors said it looked like he had stepped on a land mine. In addition to his leg, Mr. Gordon has lost his hearing in one ear and was having double vision problems. Both of his wrists were mangled, but doctors were able to save his hands although there was significant nerve damage. Mr. Gordon's wife Susan and his 8 year old daughter have been constantly at his hospital bedside.
The tank that exploded was another Walter Kidde manufactured in 1987. It was made from the same 6351-T6 aluminum alloy that maimed Chris. The tank was in current hydro and had passed a visual inspection just 6 months ago. Mr. Gordon, a trained visual inspector, inspected this tank himself prior to the explosion and found no visible abnormalities. An electronic crack detector, such as a Visual Plus or Visual Eddy, was not used during the inspection.
TANK MAY HAVE EXPLODED DUE TO NEW PROBLEM WITH 6351 ALLOY
MARCH 5, 1998 - The DOT said today that their scientists had done a superficial examination of the tank fragments in Chris's case. "It looks a lot like Sustained Load Cracking, but this one is different," said Ron Abis - the DOT's investigator. Normally, Sustained Load Cracking (SLC) develops over several years as folds buried in the metal weaken and develop into cracks in the necks of scuba tanks made from the 6351 aluminum alloy. However, in this case, the crack appears to have developed suddenly. "We may be dealing with a Fast Growth Crack on this one," said Ron Abis, "... but we won't know anything for sure until a thorough metallurgical analysis is complete."
The tank that exploded had been inspected about six months prior by a highly trained and experienced visual inspector. A special light and mirror were used to inspect the inside of the tank and to thoroughly check the neck area for cracks. No cracks were seen, in fact, no cracks were seen in any of the previous years visual inspections either. However, they should have been visible if it was regular Sustained Load Cracking. Because the garden variety of Sustained Load Cracking becomes visible several years before the tank actually fails, a new variety of Fast Growth Sustained Load Cracking may be evident.
This incident casts doubt as to whether or not industry standard yearly inspections are adequate for older cylinders made from 6351. Skip Commagere, the owner of the Force E dive shop chain, said "...the vast majority of cylinders that fail visual and electronic inspection are old. So far, ... over eighty percent are fifteen years old or more. Almost the remainder are greater than ten years old." He later added, "Almost all the cylinders that explode are 15 years old or more. The vast majority of cylinders found cracked or leaking were 10 years old or more." These facts prompted the Greater Fort Lauderdale Dive Association to consider a policy of requiring visual inspections every six months for scuba tanks that are over 10 years old. Some shops will also refuse to fill tanks that are over 15 years old.
LUXFER WILL PAY YOU $30 TO RETURN YOUR OLD ALUMINUM TANKS!
FEBRUARY 27, 1998 - According to Luxfer spokesperson Kathryn Gamboa, if you purchase a new Luxfer scuba tank of size S63 or S80 and turn in your old aluminum scuba tank (size S63 or larger), Luxfer will send you a rebate check for $30. The catch is that you must pay all freight charges to get your old tank to a Luxfer approved drop point. One very nice thing about the Luxfer trade-in program is that the old tank that you trade in does not have to be made by Luxfer and it doesn't have to be made from the 6351 alloy. Ask your local dive shop for information on this when it becomes available or contact Luxfer at 1-909-684-5110.
This offer seems like it might be a good deal for many people, but before turning in your tank to Luxfer, you should check the price of scrap aluminum in your area. In some areas of the country, scrap aluminum goes for up to $1 a pound. With a typical 80cf scuba tank weighing in at about 30 pounds, it may be worth a phone call to your local aluminum recycler to check the price paid for scrap aluminum in your area.
LUXFER TO REPLACE CRACKED 6351-T6 TANKS FREE
FEBRUARY 27, 1998 - Luxfer says that if you own a Luxfer or Walter Kidde scuba tank made from the 6351 alloy (see list) that has been removed from service because it has neck cracks (and you have a VIP report to prove it), you can send it to Luxfer and get it replaced with a brand new Luxfer scuba tank of the same size for free. According to Luxfer spokesperson Kathryn Gamboa, your only expense is the cost of freight to get the tank back to Luxfer. Therefore, if your tank fails its annual VIP because of neck cracks, thank your inspector kindly because his failure report is your ticket to getting a free tank. Of course, all returned tanks are subject to Luxfer's own examination of the tank. Call Luxfer at 1-909-684-5110 for specific details.
If you own or manage a dive shop, please consider following the recommendation to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Dive Association and require visual inspections every six months and refusing to fill tanks over 15 years old that are subject to the DOT's safety alert bulletin. Isn't your safety and the safety of your employees worth something? If your customers complain, consider giving them a discount on a new tank in exchange for turning in their old ones. Most dive shops in South Florida have already agreed to this or similar requirements. Nearly all of the tanks that have exploded were over 15 years old and almost all of the cracked tanks discovered are over ten years old.
If you are a diver, do your own visual inspection of the outside of your tanks (especially around the neck) every time you use them. However, don't be fooled by a clean external appearance of the tank. Most neck cracks start on the inside of the tank. For your annual visual inspections, take your tanks to a qualified inspector. Know that just because a dive shop is reputable does not mean that their inspectors are qualified. If in doubt, ask the inspector to list his credentials. Nearly all of the tanks that have failed explosively were over 15 years old. Consider trading in tanks over 15 years old and replacing them with new ones (See Luxfer rebate program above). It is better to lose a tank than to lose your life!
SCUBA TANK SAFETY ARTICLES
Inspecting Aluminum Scuba Tanks - by Hans Petter Roverud
Letter to Luxfer - by Skip Commagere (Owner of the Force E dive store chain) This is an actual letter sent to Luxfer protesting the false information being propagated by Luxfer.
A Few Related Scuba Safety Links
Air Source One - Containment vessels and general scuba safety.
Diverlink - A comprehensive resource about scuba diving plus great deal of information about tanks, inspections, and safety in general.
Professional Scuba Inspectors, Inc.
Scuba Cylinder Do's and Don'ts - A very good page by A. Dale Fox.
DOT Safety Alert Bulletin (Local NRC Copy)
DOT Safety Alert Bulletin (Official DOT) - If the GOV server is down, try the local NRC copy above.
Undersea Breathing Systems - Make NITROX without expensive and dangerous Oxygen cylinders.
WEBDIVE Library - A collection of interesting Dive articles.
Self Rescue - General Diver Safety
Visual Plus Brochure - An Eddy Current Inspection machine by Luxfer that helps find invisible tank defects.
Simple Eddy Brochure - Another Eddy Current Inspection machine that is not affiliated with Luxfer.
Visual Eddy - From the same engineers who made the Visual Plus, but no longer associated with Luxfer.
I make every attempt to provide accurate information here. If you spot any inaccuracies, please don't hesitate to email me, Dennis Hawkins (Chris's Uncle). If you prove your point, I will update the page ASAP.
Copyright 1998-1999 by Chris Hawkins - All Rights Reserved