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Recipe for Disaster
markingrassia - 12/04/2016 2:06 PM
Category: Health & Safety
Replies: 8

Recipe for a Tragedy

I was on a live-aboard this summer and watched what could have been the deaths of two divers.

The story begins with a self-centered diver who pushed his girlfriend into making a 130-foot dive to a plane wreck she did not want to make.

In fact, no one but the one diver wanted to go. It was far away and most of us were on Nitrox. We preferred closer, shallower dives, but this diver was insistent. So, rather than argue, the rest of us grabbed another cup of coffee and sat out that morning’s dive.

At the wreck we could see the girlfriend of the pushy diver had trouble getting her gear on. She was nervous, shaking to the point that she couldn’t get into her BCV. We watched her struggle before someone asked if she was okay. Her boyfriend answered, “She’s a little nervous about the depth. Her deepest dive is 60’.”

The woman shot back. “No, it’s not! My deepest dive is 40ft!” The man argued that figure, citing other dives where she’d been deeper than 40ft. An argument ensued between them, and ended with the boyfriend brow beating the women into submission.

“It’s not a big deal. You can do it. I’ll be there.”

It was clear to the rest of the group, and to the dive masters this woman did not want to dive the wreck. She was visibly scared. But, the woman insisted she’d be okay.

A few minutes later, the man, women and two dive masters and a fifth diver stepped off the platform and disappeared beneath the waves.

Less than ten minutes later, one of the divers popped up off the bow waving their hands over their head. It was the woman and she was alone and in trouble.

The Captain did fantastic job swinging the boat around and the crew quickly retrieved the woman and brought her onboard. We could see she was stiff, humped over and barely shuffling her feet. We feared the worse.

The crew removed the woman’s gear and almost immediately oxygen was applied. We monitored her for decompression sickness. She seemed okay, just shaken up. In a few minutes the woman recovered enough to relate what happened.

“My equipment failed. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen”

But, then she told us the full story. There was a heavy current and the dive master suggested a power dive to the plane. She either didn’t hear or, did not understand. Everyone but the woman did a ‘fins up’ descent. The woman however, was doing a slow, controlled decent as she had been trained.

Almost immediately though, she saw her boyfriend and the group swimming away from her. She tried to follow, but they were gone. At 90 feet, she stopped and began assessing her situation. She could not see her boyfriend or anyone in the group. She could not see the plane or, for that matter could not see the bottom. She became disoriented and scared. Adrenaline began pumping in her body and the flight-fight response kicked in. She began panting shallow breaths which, quickly increased the CO2 levels in her body sending a message to her brain that she was oxygen starved.

She was now in a full blown panic.

This is an important note on stress and panic when diving. This woman reported that her regulator was broken and not feeding her air. We checked her equipment and the regulator was working properly. Her problem was that her shallow, fast breathing was not exchanging air for CO2 quickly enough. It’s common for divers under heavy stress to think they’re out of air or that their equipment is not working. Some spit their regulators out underwater and won’t allow anyone to put it back in. Some spit their regs out at the surface, remove their mask and drown.

The women did not spit out her reg, but she did the next most dangerous thing, which was to bolt straight for the surface with no safety stops.

Luckily, the woman was not down long enough to on-gas levels of Nitrogen to pose a danger.
A moment later, the two dive masters surfaced – but without the boyfriend who took off to find his girlfriend alone without notifying the others in his group. On the surface, the Diver Masters could see the beleaguered woman was back on board but now, there was another problem. The boyfriend was missing.

The DM’s put a search plan together and went back down.

Ten minutes later the boyfriend diver popped up ¾ of a mile way. He was exhausted and out of air. We scooped him up and before he even got the regulator out he was screaming at his gal about surfacing without telling him. She fired back that she couldn’t because he took off to see that ‘stupid plane.’

“When did you notice I wasn’t with you?”

“You should have kept up with me.”

We didn’t see the two talk very much after that.

We also found out the woman in question was not an experienced diver. The live-a-board involved shark dives and only divers at an advanced level were supposed to go. We noted the woman required assistance from the Dive Master on nearly every dive. The Dive Charter was careful to check certs and experience so, we were’nt sure how she was let on.

In any case, hopefully these two are more careful next time around.
ELLOCODIABLO - 12/04/2016 6:53 PM
The boyfriend sounds like an one should ever get pushed into a dive. It hazards all involved including the the divers that have to rescue or recover. Hopefully the woman dumps his dumb ass and finds someone thats not so selfish.
Greg - 12/05/2016 7:26 AM
The girlfriend shouldn’t have done the dive. And I agree with Eric’s DM should have led and the other followed. What is the signal for a "power dive". That seems like something that should have been coordinated on the boat prior to starting the dive.
Caloosa - 12/05/2016 8:28 AM
Ditto on the operators control of the diving. The group seemingly did not want that what gives if the DM’s permit the tail to wag the dog—-the scenario seems cut and was a recipe for disaster! Fortunately, all turned out better than I would have suspected...hopefully also, the girlfriend is reconsidering what she wants in a boyfriend!
lerpy - 12/08/2016 9:30 AM
Unfortunately this is a scene that unfolds to often. Working on a boat myself and other crew have been in the position where you discreetly tell a significant other that they do not have to do the dive if they are not comfortable doing it. Its upsetting to see loved ones pressuring other loved ones into something that they are not comfortable with, and could result in serious harm or more to them.
diverray - 1/04/2017 5:15 PM
I don’t think I have been on a commercial dive boat where the customers decided the dive site, instead of the captain. Evidently, it happens, but I haven’t experienced it.