Ed.'s note: This regular column presents the anatomy of a scuba diving accident and the lessons to be learned from it. The incidents described are real. Names of locations and people have been changed or deleted.
Setting the StageAs he often did, the dive store owner set up a long weekend holiday diving trip to Oban. This trip's group consisted primarily of hard-working, fun-loving, hard-playing young adults. The partying started en route and continued upon arrival at the destination. The first day of diving included some easy but fun shore dives. Because the trip was short and one night would be a night dive, the group (without the trip guide) hit the night spots for dinner, dancing and drinking. It turned into a longer than expected night of partying. The next day, hungover, tired and confused, the group pulled together for a day of more demanding but beautiful boat diving.
The DiveIn spite of the poor fitness of several of the divers, conditions were so ideal that all the divers decided to make the dives. Part way through the first dive, one woman indicated that she was not feeling well and wished to surface. She and her buddy began a slow, controlled ascent. About halfway up, near 10m, she went into acute distress and quickly threw up, then bolted for the surface. Her buddy raced after her only to find her on the surface unconscious. As this was a live-boat drift dive, the boat was able to come to their aid immediately.
The ChaosEverything fell to pieces when the woman was pulled from the water. No oxygen could be found, no radio was available and no one seemed to know what to do or where to go. Finally, with other divers (not dive leaders) doing CPR, the boat got under way for the beach, leaving part of their dive group behind, still in the water. They were later picked up by another dive boat.
Arriving at the beach, an ambulance still had to be called, delaying treatment further. Then the confusion continued on the way to the chamber, with the victim arriving at a medical facility with no ability to treat diving accidents. The victim was pronounced dead on arrival.
AnalysisAlthough legal actions were threatened, they were dropped after the initial investigations revealed the extent of the partying and the dive organiser's non-involvement.
It is dramatically clear that drinking and being hungover do not make for safe diving, but what if, due to some other reason, such as seasickness or flu, you need to throw up under water? What do you do? First, stay put as much as possible and, in particular, do not ascend. Throw up through your regulator so that when you take that inhaling gasp afterward you get air and not water. If you can stay in control, you can even use the purge to help clear the regulator. After you have your breathing under control and are calm, remove your reg, wash it and your mouth out and then slowly proceed to the surface with your buddy ready to help.
Another strong message in this accident is to personally check or have your dive tour operator check that dive boat crews are trained, have oxygen and radios along with an emergency plan.
Lesson for Life
- Do not party or drink to excess before diving; be well rested.
- Check out your dive operators to be sure they are prepared to handle emergencies.
- Know how to handle yourself if you become sick under water.