HMCS Victoria crew coming to grips with death of senior sailor in diving accident

CFB Esquimalt-based submarine will sail with temporary coxswain on board

Chief Petty Officer 1st class Richard Boileau holds his grandson in this family photo

The crew of Canada’s flagship submarine is feeling the loss of one of their own, who died following a recreational scuba-diving incident.

Chief Petty Officer 1st class Richard Boileau, 47, who had gone diving with two friends in the Saanich Inlet near Bamberton on Saturday, is being remembered as an integral part of a very close 48-member team of submariners serving on HMCS Victoria.

“We’re coping. You have to understand that we’re a very small crew, tightly knit, and therefore the loss of any of our crew members is very noticeable,” said Cmdr. Christopher Ellis, Victoria’s commanding officer.

Ellis went with a military padre to Boileau’s Esquimalt home on Saturday to deliver the sad news to his wife, Brenda Lyall. They had been married for 26 years.

As word spread about the tragedy, condolences have poured in from beyond submariner circles.

“He had a far-reaching influence and was well-regarded,” Ellis said of his coxswain, who started in the military as a cook 28 years ago. Boileau joined HMCS Victoria last November.

“It was not your typical job – that appealed to him,” Lyall said of her husband’s decision to join the submarine program. “He was not a sidelines kind of guy.”

The avid diver leaves a grown son and daughter, two grandsons and a large extended family in Quebec.

The B.C. Coroners Service is working to determine the cause of death. Police do not suspect foul play.

Two of Boileau’s friends, who were diving with him at the time, were taken to a decompression chamber after the dive Saturday afternoon, prompting coroner officials to consider the possibility that Boileau died from an air embolism (air bubbles in the blood stream).

“What happens is, he gets into trouble while he’s on the dive, and as a result of getting into trouble, he ends up maybe rising too fast,” said Barb McLintock, spokesperson for the B.C. Coroners Service. “But we still need to know what was going on that caused the problem in the first place.”

Boileau’s “complex” scuba-diving gear will be examined by Canadian Coast Guard dive experts on the Lower Mainland, given that “there is always the possibility of a mechanical problem,” McLintock said.

HMCS Victoria’s sailing schedule has not been impacted by the tragedy, but there are several important milestones the boat must still achieve before it achieves full operational status.

Starting next week, the coxswain of Halifax-based HMCS Corner Brook will fill in on Victoria for two months, until the position can be permanently filled. The boat is scheduled to sail for Hawaiian waters in mid-June, where it will take part in the multinational biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise.

Meanwhile, Boileau will be sorely missed, given his role on board as the senior sailor who served as a vital link between the crew and the command team.

“We’re going to continue to feel his presence within the submarine community, because he very much had a positive influence through his mentorship of the crew and other submarine trainees,” Ellis said.

Tragic numbers:

• There have been 17 scuba-diving deaths in B.C. in the past five years, most of them off the coast of Vancouver Island, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. Causes of death range from diver error to faulty equipment to medical problems.

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