A Shallow-Water Tragedy
Setting the StageA young professional couple--a business executive and his wife, a nurse--learned to dive locally and then continued to dive from shore near their home and on trips to tropical locations. For some time they had enjoyed diving with another couple who had gotten certified with them.
On this particular day, the weather was great and the four of them came upon an out-of-the-way cove that looked perfect for a dive. The surf was up outside the cove, but inside the cove the water was calm and clear. It appeared that by walking down to the small, sandy beach in the centre of the cove, an easy entry and exit could be made. At the mouth of the cove was a rocky offshore reef that at this tide level was a mass of breaking surf.
They unloaded the car and worked together to haul all their gear down the short but steep trail to the beach in the centre of the cove. As was often the case, the nurse and her husband were ready first and proceeded to make an easy and uneventful entry. The second couple continued to prepare their gear.
The DiveThe first couple snorkelled with ease to the centre of the cove and then made their descent on scuba. As they explored the cove, the amount of marine life kept increasing so they continued farther out toward the reef. All was going so well that they agreed, with underwater hand signals, to continue around the reef. As they were doing this, the force of the waves breaking over the reef was building. While they moved along the exposed outside edge of the reef, they had also inadvertently gotten much shallower. A large wave swept over the reef and caught both of them in shallow water near the outside edge of the reef. In a mass of white water, they were driven over and through the reef.
Moments later, the nurse surfaced in the relative calm of the cove and found her husband floating on the surface unconscious and not breathing. She yelled to her friends who were still on the beach and together they towed him to shore. One of the other divers went to call for help, but due to the remote location, it took a significant length of time for the emergency medical personnel to arrive. They provided life support and transported him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Legal ActionThe wife sued the manufacturer of her husband's BC for failing to float him well enough to keep him alive. During the investigation, sand was found in the BC's inflate/deflate device, which the plaintiff claimed somehow caused the accident. This, despite the facts:
- He was floating when she found him;
- The BC held air and did not leak on the surface as the inflate/deflate would be below the air in the BC;
- Even with the sand in the inflate/deflate device, it could still be inflated by the power inflator or orally;
- She did not add more air to the BC or ditch his weight belt;
- There was no evidence to show when the sand got in the inflate/deflate device; it could have been during his tumble in the surf, during the tow and removal from the water, or after the fact.
More to the point, the wife, a trained nurse, did not provide maximum buoyancy, in-water mouth-to-mouth, or CPR. Rather than risk a trial with a jury that might not understand that the sand and the accident were not related, the manufacturer's insurance company settled out of court.
Lessons For Life
- Dive at locations appropriate to your experience and abilities.
- Be careful of poor or changing environmental conditions.
- Remote diving locations require extra planning, particularly for emergencies.
- Have a means of communicating if help is needed.
- Dive with a group, preferably one that provides some dive supervision.
- If necessary, give your best rescue effort. Don't give up--it's often difficult to tell whether a victim is dead or not.
If caught unexpectedly in extremely heavy surf:
- Go with the flow.
- Look for a way out.
- Get buoyant when possible by inflating your BC, ditching weights or both, or even ditching the whole scuba unit.
- Back off and recover.
- Take your time--as long as you're floating, you are OK and can look for a solution.