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September 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 28, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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An Analysis of Rebreather Deaths

why rebreather diving is 10 times more dangerous

from the September, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Closed-circuit rebreathers were introduced to sport divers in 1998, but it wasn't long before they were associated with a number of deaths. Given the small number of rebreather units out there, compared to open-circuit scuba, the number of rebreather-related deaths seemed out of proportion. It raised the question that there may be some factor intrinsic to rebreather use that increases the risk of death. To answer that question, Andrew W. Fock, head of the department of intensive care and hyperbaric medicine at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, decided to look at rebreather fatalities recorded between 1998 and 2010 by Deep Life, a British manufacturer of rebreather gear.

Since 2007, Deep Life founder Alex Deas has tried to document all known civilian rebreather deaths in an Internet database. The information appeared to be derived largely from the internet forum Rebreather World. Reports on the site's "accident forum" were not independently vetted, but they had details of the victims and analysis of the events. Then in 2008, Divers Alert Network (DAN) held a technical diving forum and invited prominent members of the dive industry to discuss this database and its consequences. The scrutiny revealed significant inaccuracies in several cases, so they agreed to review the database and cases reported, correcting errors and adding information on the remaining cases.

Using this updated Deep Life database, holding discussions with training agencies and rebreather manufacturers, and then getting additional rebreather death data from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) and the DAN Asia-Pacific database, Fock sought to answer some key questions: 1) what's the rate of rebreather diver deaths compared to normal sport diving; 2) what are the major causes of rebreather deaths; and 3) what changes should be made to rebreather training and/or design to minimize future deaths?...

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