I-TEAM: Jacksonville diving school suspended after 4 student deaths

Two diving students have died while training at CDA Technical Institute in just two months, and many are now calling on authorities to shut the school down for safety reasons.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The group that gives commercial diving certifications across the US has suspended a Jacksonville diving school.

Two diving students have died while training at CDA Technical Institute in just two months, and many are now calling on authorities to shut the school down for safety reasons.

The News4JAX I-TEAM reported that the US Department of Veterans Affairs pulled GI bill funding from the school – the facility made a lot of its income training military veterans.

Now, we’ve learned that at least 4 CDA students have died in the past 3 years – two from drowning, two from other causes. And that’s catching a lot of attention from people worried about student safety both during training and after graduation.

You can hear on body cam video, “All I saw was bubbles the instructor goes out there brings him up and all I see is blue”. The video is being used in the investigation into the death of 34-year-old Victor Pierce in February.

He was diving in a lake on Jacksonville’s northside – training with CDA Technical Institute. An autopsy found alcohol was a contributing factor to his drowning.

And three weeks ago – Fausto Martins, 41, drowned while training at the school’s Trout River campus – the cause still under investigation.

Fausto Martins, 41, died last week during an instructional class at CDA Technical Institute. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

We’ve reached out to the institute’s leaders – but have been told no comment.

“We want them shut down. They should not be in existence,” Victor Rivera, a commercial diving supervisor, said.

Rivera is leading a group of peers who want to shut down the academy. “If they’re not trained properly and they’re not safe, our teams are only as strong as our weakest link -- and only as safe as our weakest link,” Rivera said.

He started a petition – and is trying to get in touch with the Governor to step in.

The News4JAX I-TEAM learned the organization that certifies pro divers in the US has suspended the school’s membership.

The executive director of the Association of Diving Contractors International tells us the school reported the April death as required – but did NOT report the February death. He found out through news reports.

As part of the emergency suspension – the organization will audit the school and then the board of directors will decide the consequences.

It’s important to note this would NOT shut down the school as a whole – but would mean future students couldn’t get a certification – which is needed for most industry jobs.

Besides the two drowning deaths – the I-TEAM uncovered two more fatalities linked to the school.

Police reports show, this past New Years Eve, a 31-year-old student took his own life in a dorm on campus. And in 2019 – a 24-year-old student diver overdosed on alcohol and fentanyl on the property.


About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.