A Washington-based widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court over the death of her 65-year-old husband, who was a Federal Aviation Administration employee who went missing after scuba diving with three other persons at the Grotto in 2018.
Madelyn Jones is suing Axe Murderer Tours LLC and its owner, Harry Blalock, Green Flash LLC and its owner, Joe McDoulett, Professional Association of Dive Instructors Worldwide Corp., and PADI America’s Inc.
Jones, through counsel William M. Fitzerald, is suing the defendants for negligence-wrongful death and for breach of Consumer Protection Act. She is also suing PADI Worldwide and PADI Americas for negligence and vicarious liability.
Jones asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to hold the defendants liable to pay her over $75,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.
McDoulett, who is a lawyer and a former Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent, refused to comment about the lawsuit yesterday.
Blalock also has no comment.
According to Fitzgerald in the complaint, FAA sent John Jones to Saipan to help re-establish the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, which was damaged by Super Typhoon Yutu in October 2018.
On Nov. 18, 2018, during John Jones’ day off, he went scuba diving with a fellow employee, Dana Couto. Being unfamiliar with the waters around Saipan, John Jones and Couto sought a professional scuba diving guide and were informed that Blalock was a professional dive instructor, certified by PADI, the largest scuba diving agency in the world, Fitzgerald said.
The lawyer said John Jones and Couto contacted Blalock and his dive tour company, Axe Murderer, on Nov. 17, 2018, to take them diving the following day.
On the morning of Nov. 18, 2018, Blalock met John Jones and Couto at their hotel and drove them to the Green Flash shop to pick up oxygen tanks for the dive. It was at that point that McDoulett, who worked at Green Flash and was a dive instructor there, joined the group, Fitzgerald said.
At 9am, the four divers entered the water at the Grotto, submerged and swam together through one of the underwater passages to outside the Grotto.
Fitzgerald said that, after approximately 27 minutes into the dive, and when John Jones and McDoulett were outside the Grotto in the Pacific Ocean, John Jones signaled to McDoulett that he was running low on air. At that time, John Jones was about 30 feet below the surface of the ocean, Fitzgerald said.
The lawyer said McDoulett turned away from John Jones and swam to Blalock, who was just inside the Grotto at that time. McDoulett allegedly used hand signals to inform Blalock and Couto that John Jones was low on air.
Fitzgerald said Blalock used hand signals to point toward the Grotto entrance and continued to swim through the Grotto without checking on John Jones.
Fitzgerald said McDoulett also began swimming toward the Grotto entrance without confirming that John Jones was following him.
The lawyer said that after swimming a little bit, McDoulett turned back to look for John Jones, but did not see the latter following him. Instead of checking on John Jones, McDoulett swam to Blalock and gestured that John Jones was missing, Fitzgerald said.
Blalock allegedly gestured to McDoulett that he should turn back and search for John Jones.
Fitzgerald said McDoulett swam in the other direction toward the ocean to search for John Jones.
After Blalock had surfaced with Couto within the Grotto, Blalock swam back through the passage to search for John Jones.
Blalock and McDoulett did not find him.
The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and the Department of Public Safety searched for John Jones for several days. The search was suspended on Nov. 24, 2018.
John Jones was never found. The Superior Court issued a presumptive death certificate on March 22, 2019, with a date of death of Nov. 18, 2018.
It was Madelyn Jones who filed a petition asking the court to declare John Jones dead.
According to the petition, the 65-year-old John Jones left behind a wife of 46 years, two children, five grandchildren, and his mother.