A fatal explosion that blew apart a hyperbaric chamber at a Florida equine therapy center was caused by a steel-shoed horse kicking through the chamber’s protective coating, authorities have determined.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has ruled the blast an accident, but the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are continuing to investigate the incident at the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, in Ocala, FL.
Marion County Sheriff's Office
|The explosion destroyed a hyperbaric chamber, housed in a metal barn.|
The blast killed KESMARC employee Erika Marshall, 28, and wounded a visitor from London, Sorcha Moneley, 33, who was observing the chamber’s operation in anticipation of opening a similar facility in the UK.
The accident occurred about 10 a.m. Feb. 10.
Hyperbaric chambers, used in medical treatment, deliver 100% oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. At the equine center, the chamber was used for horses recovering from surgery, treatment of soft-tissue damage, and “rest and relaxation,” the sheriff’s department reported.
|Chamber operator Erika Marshall, 28, was killed in the explosion.|
The chamber was housed in a large metal barn structure that also included horse stalls.
Facility owner Leonora Byrne officials told investigators that some horses are sedated before they are put in the chamber but that this horse, named Tux, had not been sedated because he had been in the chamber several times without incident. Moneley, however, said Tux had been sedated.
‘A Massive Spark’
Moneley told the sheriff’s department that Tux had been “unsettled” the entire time he was in the chamber. After about 22 minutes, Moneley said, the horse started kicking inside the oxygen-sated atmosphere.
With a sharp kick to the rear, he dislodged a cover, “revealing raw metal to the inside of the chamber,” police reported. Soon, the women saw “a massive spark” and then flames.
|Several types of hyperbaric chambers, showing control panel, monitoring facilities, and different chamber sizes, are shown in multiple facilities in Spain.|
Moneley said she had run to call the fire department, while Marshall—”staring at the monitor and crying”—had tried to shut down the chamber, which she had operated for about two years.
Moneley was about 20 feet away when two blasts occurred, knocking her off her feet. She was later hospitalized with a head injury. Marshall’s body was found in the rubble of the chamber’s control room.
Moneley said the horse’s steel shoes had not been taped or padded, because the facility had a protective coating that was “not removable.”
Moneley also told investigators that the facility had complained to the chamber’s manufacturer about leaking valves and that the two parties had had “heated emails and arguments” about the issue.