We had a local scuba death here on 19 July.
Here’s what we know from the paper/radio reports: A 48 year old Warner Robins man drowned in Lake Tobosofkee while testing out some new scuba gear to get ready for a trip to the Bahamas. He jumped in the water with his air turned off. He was certified O/W at our LDS back in 2002 and had taken no other classes from them after that date. No one knows how much or how little diving he has done since then, but his mother said he was a "very experienced diver."
Now, here’s my take on it: My personal opinion is the guy hadn’t been in the water for a few years. He wanted to do some diving in the Bahamas, so he went and bought new equipment and was going to test it out. He went in the water by himself but had a surface support person with him. (A non-diver support person) After he went in, he realized his air wasn’t turned on, he panicked, tried to turn on the air and drowned in the process. The non-diving surface support had no idea what to look for and didn’t realize anything was wrong for an hour. They found his body 4 hours after he went in, in 15 feet of water.
A few things I want to bring to the surface here: Just because you have been certified for a number years, does not make you a "very experienced" diver. Honestly, if you got certified in 2005 and never did any dives after your check dives, you aren’t a diver at all. You are someone that went through the class. The ONLY thing that is going to make you an experienced diver is diving.. The more dives you get under your belt, the better diver you are going to be. Along with the number of dives, diving in different conditions will also help your experience level. If you only dive in tropical, no current/high viz situations, how are you going to know how to react is there is a sudden current situation or low viz problem?
Also, those checklists they teach us in class are there for a reason.. If the guy had done the "check both regs, purge buttons and low pressure inflator" he would have noticed his air was off because, even with residual air, there wouldn’t be enough to complete that check. If this guy was as experienced as they were saying in the paper, he would have done his checks and inflated his BC before jumping in the water. (Remember SORTD: Signal, Orient, Regulator, Time, Descend) You can’t do that check list if you drop directly below the surface after entering the water) Also, the guy must have been over-weighted to the gills since he just sunk and couldn’t get back to the surface.
I’m not going to go into the buddy diving/solo diving debate. That’s a personal preference and I believe, with the zero type viz at Tobo, a buddy would have made no difference. BUT, if he would have had a topside support person that was a diver, they would have noticed within 30 seconds there were no bubbles coming up and figured there was a problem.
All in all, there wasn’t just one thing that killed him, it was an unbroken chain of bad decisions and events. He hadn’t been in the water for a long time(my opinion), bought new equipment and wasn’t familiar with it, didn’t check equipment after putting it together, jumped in the water without a systems check, had a non-diving support person, used a zero viz water source to do his checkout dive, and last but not least, panicked underwater and tried to turn on his air instead of getting out of the equipment and bolting to the surface.
How can you and anyone else avoid this?
1. If you haven’t been in the water in a long time, take a refresher course!! Just because you have a C-card, don’t think you know how to do it. Get in a pool, get some time with an Instructor, DM or if there aren’t any of those your immediate area, a "real" experienced diver to help you out. All of us are willing to help you if you want us to help out..
2. If you buy new equipment, test it in a controlled environment. (pool or whatever) Again, have experienced help with you.
3. Always do your equipment checks!!! When you do your pre-dive equipment checks, it will let you know if you have a problem before it’s too late. (BWRAF: BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, Friend) 4. Always get your equipment serviced..
5. Stay calm and make the right decision. Since this has happened, I had it running through my mind what I would do if this exact scenario happened to me. Now, the decision is ingrained. Rip out of the equipment and bolt to the surface.
This was a tragic accident that didn’t need to happen. And, I’m hoping that each of us can take something away from this story and learn from his mistake.