Out of Gas Too!

In my last post, I told the story of Steve; a tremendously likable fellow who ran out of air at 100' and then got into all kinds of trouble related to his poor fitness level. Sadly, Steve died of a heart attack while diving just over a year later. This posting is about an incident that occurred just two days after Steve's initial incident. Same boat. Same ocean. Different guy - let's call him "Brian".

Brian joined our boat after Steve bailed after his fright that Monday. They were friends and, like Steve, Brian was a local diver with lots of experience on and under (?) those waters. As heavy and vivacious as Steve was, Brian was the opposite. Quiet and thin, he showed up on Wednesday morning and quietly got to work putting his gear together properly and efficiently. After the problem with newbie Steve, a couple of divers took a moment to check in with Brian and one checked his computer on the sly to confirm the number of logged dives therein - 40. The only weird thing about Brian's set up w
Trevor Jackson returning from a dive on SS KyogleImage via Wikipediaas that he would be diving in a shorty wetsuit. Kind of tropical but the water was warm and we were further offshore in warm gulf stream waters so it wasn't ridiculous.

One of the many instructors on the boat, who was diving a rebreather, took Brian under his wing for the first dive. They splashed a little after 8:30. I was right behind them.

The dive was to the wreck of the Schurz - WWI German battle ship with a great history. It's always an incredibly beautiful dive and I highly recommend it. We were tied into the bow and most of the divers set off down the wreck, dodging the plague of lion fish that have taken up residency there (and almost everywhere else in the area). I turned around at the beginning of the afterdeck and headed back to the anchor. About two thirds of the way back, I saw a flash of movement up and to my left. Brian was making a run for the anchor line at 45 degrees - very fast, no bubbles! I took off after him.

One of things that's incredible about diving with military, rescue and law enforcement folks is their situational awareness. When we get back on board after a dive, discussions cover not only what each diver experienced but a pantheon of observations about what else was happening on the wreck, reef or whatever. This day Dave Gulley, an EMT from St. Louis and incredible diver, spotted Brian about the same time I did. Closer to the anchor line, Dave reached him at 80 feet and immediately put him on a regulator. I joined them as they reached the line and shadowed them through the ascent. His rebreathing dive buddy, joined us at the same time - Brian had all the help he could hope for and then some.

Back on board, Brian joined us by the coolers on the sun deck. What we heard, blew our minds. Brian, it turned out, was Steve's dive buddy. They had both just started diving and, like Steve, Brian had 6 dives. The 40 dives on his computer were from another diver. Although Brian competently set up his equipment, he forgot his weight belt when he jumped overboard. But he was so skinny, he sank like a stone until his aluminum tank started to empty at which point he had to work to stay down. This meant that he used air much more quickly on the way back than he had on the way out, though, in fairness, he had probably turned around too late as he followed the dive profile of a diver with hours and hours of available gas. But the thing that really amazed us was that Steve hadn't told Brian, his buddy, about Monday's near-death experience or the reason for his passing on that day's diving.

As with Steve, we talked him through the errors and helped restore his confidence by shepherding him through an easy, better managed dive on dive two just before lunch. It was a good end to what could have been a terrible day but that night the more experienced divers had a long talk about our role in both incidents. With respect to Brian the conclusions I came to were:

  1. Our examination of Brian's experience was insufficient.
  2. Pairing a new open-circuit diver with a rebreather diver (even of great experience) is a real challenge and probably not advisable.
  3. Failing to share your incidents denies your diving buddies of the opportunity to avoid your mistakes. It's more than a little negligent.
  4. If you are going to take responsibility for another diver, of any experience level, take the time to check their equipment (like we were all taught to do in open water class) to make sure it's in place and secure.
  5. Always discuss your gas management plan with your buddy; if only to make sure he or she has one. Whether it's a third in , a third out and a third for reserve, or head back at 1k and on board with 500 psi, or whatever, it is arguably THE most important plan.
Ok, so what about fitness?

Mentally, none of us were fit because we didn't have the right info - garbage in = garbage out. Cave and technical divers use rigorous checklists because they ensure that the garbage in problem is solved which allows other aspects of mental fitness to take shape. As for Brian, his inexperience greatly impinged on his physical performance because he overlooked a key piece of equipment and made the wrong move when out of air. He was surrounded by divers with plenty of gas but he ran for the surface. That's panic and decidedly unfit. On the positive side, the rescuers didn't panic and several folks were aware enough to spot the problem and react appropriately and very quickly.

Physically, we looked a lot better. In spite of Brian's buoyancy, Dave's fitness ensured that he had no problem managing the dive through the safety stop. The more experienced divers had lots of air because they were skilled and therefore efficient in the water. Finally, Brian's own fitness level assisted in his rescue.

Two divers, two days, two similar incidents, two primary rescuers, two good outcomes, several important lessons learned.

Dive Safely,


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