Diver Nearly Drowns on Dive Boat Deck

On Monday June 21, 2010, I nearly drowned on the back deck of a dive boat 30 miles off Morehead City, NC. There's a big lesson to be learned here so pass this one around!

The day started off with a 5:30 wakeup from an all too short night. My son and I had arrived late the previous evening after a late get away from Richmond due to my participation in an Xterra off road traithlon Sunday. When we got to the motel at 9:30 we were greeted with hugs from old friends Matt Hahn, Tim Quitter, Sharky Anderson, Dave Gulley and Roy Knecht. Matt's a dive instructor and merchant marine captain, Tim flew jets for the Navy and now runs war games for them, Sharky is an EMT, combat veteran and barotrauma specialist, Dave's an EMT from St. Louis, and Roy is a SWAT team member, combat veteran and former secret service protection agent for Presidents Bush and Clinton. We all have hundreds if not thousands of dives. They're great guys to dive with, have a beer with, and even better guys to get in trouble with.

My son, Noah, was on his first offshore trip. For years the guys had been adding trinkets to my goody bag for me to take home to him from various sites we dove together. They quickly absorbed him into the crew, showering him with attention, barbs and questions. We turned in around 11 looking forward to a great week of diving.

U-BoatImage by phatcontroller via Flickr
We hit the water for our second dive around 11:00 in the morning. The first dive, like this one, was to the wreck of the U-352 a WWII era German U-Boat. She lies in 108' of water about 30 miles fro
m Beaufort Inlet. Exactly one year earlier I had saved a diver who ran out of air on this wreck (see my original post). That diver has since died in an incident - but that's another story ...

The dive was unremarkable except for some distracting mask leakage for Noah. We were diving with EAN 30 but using air tables for an extra margin of safety. The water was a warmish 76 degrees at the bottom and vis was about 50 feet. We headed back up the line ready for some lunch and a visit to the head. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I had to pee like a racehorse.

Olympus Dive Center, Morehead City, North CarolinaImage by CasaDeQueso via Flickr
At 50' I coughed for the first time. It was a normal, tickle cough from dry air except, unusually, there was a gurgle of liquid deep in my throat. By 30' I was coughing continuously. With each cough, more liquid rose in my throat. It tasted metallic, not quite like blood but not like saliva either. When we transferred to the safety line at 18' I began to hyperventilate. I was now actively swallowing the fluids I was coughing up. The urge to rip the regulator out of my mouth was almost overwhelming. In spite of efforts to calm and slow my breathing, I sucked on my reg for air.  I was taking increasingly rapid, increasingly shallow breaths. I was over breathing my reg but could not understand why. Bad air? (probably not, I'd dove the same source in the morning), Pulmonary Embolism? (nope, no rapid ascents, well within deco limits), CNS or bends? (nope, wrong symptoms, no pain, no reason).

It quickly became clear that I'd either have to surface or black out so I executed a plan I'd been scrabbling together: 1. Keep Noah on the line for at least 2 minutes, 2. Hand him off to Tim Quitter before surfacing so he'd be safe, 3. Surface at the normal pace at the back of the boat to the right of the ladder, 4. Inflate BC and give the crew a huge arm wave to signal distress and yell for help if possible. I started by putting Noah's hand in Tim's. I looked into Tim's eyes and tried to somehow communicate how much I needed his calm reliability.  I signalled for him to buddy with Noah and head up, then I looked back at Noah and signaled the same thing. Leaving him was almost as difficult as breathing.

Reaching the back of the boat 30 seconds later, I went ape-shit to get everyone's attention, told the guy on the ladder (I think it was Steve, sorry bud') to get the fuck off and was hauled bodily out of the water by the excellent crew of Bobby Cox's Diver Down. To be perfectly honest, I expected to cough up whatever was in my throat. I thought I'd be fine now that I had reached the boat. I was wrong and it was the most disappointing and terrifying realization of my life...

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reload said...

Glad you are okay! Thanks for sharing your experience so we can learn. When will you publish the second part?

Anonymous said...

continued here: