Doncaster diver died as he explored wreck

Another diver at the Bengasi site
Another diver at the Bengasi site

A South Yorkshire man has died from a suspected heart attack while diving at a wreck off Sardinia.

Paul Towning, aged 51, was with a group of six divers taking part in a week of deep water explorations on ships sunk during World War Two when he got into difficulty at a depth of 100ft.

Coast guard officers said he seemed to have suffered a cardiac arrest underwater.

The 51-year-old, who lived with wife Jacqueline in Sprotbrough, Doncaster, worked at the BMW Vehicle Distribution Centre in Thorne.

Jacqueline was waiting on the shore near Villasimius on the south-east coast of the Mediterranean island as the tragedy unfolded at around 11am local time on Monday.

Mr Towning, who attended Wombwell High School as a boy, was a keen diver – his Facebook page shows him in a wetsuit and diving gear.

Stefano Bianchelli, boss of Italian firm ProDive which organised the excursion, said: “It looks like he had some sort of attack while underwater and tragically he died as a result.

“The coastguards and police have impounded the tanks he was using but that’s just a technicality as it looks like he had a heart attack.

“He was an experienced diver but this was his first time here. He was in a group of other divers from France, and his wife Jacqueline was on the mainland. She’s very upset as you can imagine.

“When he came to the surface he was already out cold. We dragged him onto the boat and I carried out a heart massage and gave him oxygen but sadly there was nothing we could do.”

Mr Towning was diving around the wreck of the SS Bengasi, an Italian steamship sunk by a British submarine in May 1941 near the island of Cavoli. The sunken vessel is described as ‘one of the most beautiful wrecks in the Mediterranean’.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of the death of a Briton in Sardinia and are liaising with local authorities. We stand ready to provide consular assistance.”