In what appears to be an apparent seven year coverup of a flaw in their Dive computer software, Uwatec is being accused of not notifying the general public regarding a critical flaw that jeopardized the health and safety of hundreds of divers, according to interviews, legal documents and company memos as posted in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 25th.
Later this year in November, four divers will take their cases to trial in Oakland, California federal court, where they will contend that Uwatec blocked any disclosure of the dive computers defect.
It is being reported that after two employees working for Uwatec repeatedly urged a recall of the computer, the company fired them. When Uwatec’s founders sold the company, they assured the buyers there was no defect.
When the company president testified about the computer, he denied under oath that any flaw existed.
Cynthia Georgeson, a spokeswoman for Uwatec’s parent, Johnson Outdoors Inc., says the company moved to protect divers using the computer as soon as possible after confirming the defect in the summer of 2002.
"This is not a company that behaves irresponsibly when it comes to consumers," she said, "especially when you’re talking about diving equipment."
But word of the defect has unnerved countless divers from Miami to Monterey, and the tale of how a corporate coverup has exposed serious divers to severe danger has stirred many scuba divers deepest fears.
According to information being used in this court case, a design engineer told the founders of Uwatec, Karl Leemann and Heinz Ruchti, that a software defect was discovered that caused the device to underestimate nitrogen levels after a series of closely spaced dives. A diver breathing Nitrox who was relying on the Aladin computer over successive dives could exceed the safe time and depth limits and fall prey to Decompression Sickness, commonly known as The Bends.
In detailed information, the continued silence by Uwatec’s founders, along with continued coverup and denial of any problems with the computer has led to several divers succombing to DCS.
The company weathered an investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which had inquired about the computer at the end of 1998 but dropped the proceedings many months later without announcing findings.
Former Uwatec employees say the company misled the commission by sending modified Aladins that had the defect repaired, but Johnson denies the charge.
More troubling for Uwatec was the growing number of reported injuries – and the lawsuits they provoked.
Several divers have been seriously injured or died from the defective computers in the alleged coverup.
Robert Raimo is one of those divers who became a victim to DCS as a result of using the defective Aladin Dive computer while diving in Bonaire.
According to accounts, after his fourth and final dive off Bonaire, Raimo returned to his hotel and grew nauseous and dizzy. Pain bit into his shoulders. He realized almost immediately that he had the bends.
Two seven-hour sessions in a recompression chamber saved his life but left him permanently injured from having contracted The Bends. And Raimo, a veteran of thousands of dives, could not understand what had gone wrong.
"I made no mistakes," he says, "no miscalculations."
The accident was so unexpected that, even after months at home with his wife and two children, he was still having difficulty coming to terms with what or how he had contracted The Bends in the first place. But Raimo’s outlook changed Christmas of 2002, when a diving friend mentioned some information regarding a lawsuit involving the Aladin.
Upon the recommendation of several divers, Raimo contacted attorney David Concannon, who sent him copies of the Jan. 30, 1996, memo in which the Uwatech engineer mentioned the Aladin defect.
More than anything, Raimo wanted the Aladin off the market. On Jan. 27, Concannon began the process of sending the Johnson and Uwatec attorney’s letters demanding a recall of the defective dive computer. The company legal representitives responded by threatening to sue Concannon for defamation.
On Feb. 5, Raimo sued Uwatec and its parent, Johnson Outdoors Inc., in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California.
Later that day, Uwatec pulled the computer from the market.
The recall covers 392 Aladins dive computers that were distributed in the United States, but for Raimo, it won’t change much.
Even if he wins his pending lawsuit, he has already lost too much.
He will never be able to participate in the activity that gave him so much satisfaction in his life.