August 9, 2004 — Regulatory authorities are investigating the death of a woman who was injured while attempting to fill a scuba cylinder with pure oxygen. The cylinder fell over, burned and exploded at Cave Excursions dive shop in Luraville, Florida, on July 27, 2004.
Sara Frances Slaughter, 50, a dive shop employee, was attempting to add 98 percent oxygen to the Luxfer 30-cubic-foot scuba cylinder—which was not prepared by Luxfer for such pure oxygen service—when the accident occurred. Witnesses said that the cylinder fell and immediately exploded in a fiery flash on impact. Three bystanders suffered injuries, including burns. The dive shop was also damaged, but was subsequently repaired.
Investigators attributed the fire and explosion to the presence of an organic contaminant, noting that any organic material can ignite in the presence of pure oxygen and an ignition source. Federal law and industry standards require that any high-pressure cylinder intended for oxygen use must be scientifically cleaned of organic material before being filled with oxygen. Such cylinders must remain in this “oxygen clean” condition while being used with oxygen. Investigators said that the cylinder or valve—or both—involved in the accident either had not been properly cleaned or had become contaminated. Impact from the fall may also have contributed to the explosion, investigators said. They also noted that labeling on the cylinder did not indicate whether the cylinder had been properly visually inspected for damage, thread conditions or imperfections other than corrosion.
As the investigation continues, authorities will determine whether federal or state laws were violated and announce their complete findings at a later date. Participating in the investigation are the U.S. Department of Transportation, OSHA and the Suwanee County Sheriff’s Department.