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February 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Discover Scuba Diving Is Deadly

two more fatalities - one being a 13-year-old boy

from the February, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We've written before about the dangers in Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) experiences, in which an instructor (typically just one) takes people with no dive experience underwater. Last July, we wrote about the death of a 23-year-old Englishwoman during a DSD experience in Queensland, Australia. Two more fatalities recently happened within a month of each other.

A family from Mongolia vacationing on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is currently feeling the tragic loss of their 13-year-old son last month. Temuulin Tsogt, who had no previous ocean or diving experience, drowned on January 5 after an alleged panic attack underwater during a DSD experience in the open ocean with Island Divers Hawaii of Waikiki. His lifeless body was recovered from 60 feet of water with poor visibility, roughly a mile offshore from Maunalua Bay. DSDs are supposed to be conducted in confined or shallow water, with a one-to-one instructor/student ratio, but Tsogt was one of 20 people in the group that day.

Island Divers has a poor history of diver safety. Back in 2011, Matthew Curley, a 28-year-old doctor from New York, was on a dive outing aboard the Sea Fox, owned by Island Divers, on the southeast side of Oahu. He was the first diver in the water and was never seen again, nor was his body ever found. A week later, Curley's equipment was found on the ocean bottom within 25 yards of his entry point. A lawsuit about his death was settled before trial.

A year later, Island Divers was involved in the death of a diver off the Kahala coast of Hawaii. In 2017, a complaint was filed against the company after two divers were temporarily left behind after a dive. And just last August, a 27-year-old diver suffered multiple injuries to her legs and feet after being struck by the Sea Fox's propeller. Island Divers looks like a company to avoid.

Over in Thailand, authorities are investigating another DSD death on the island of Koh Tao. On December 17, Rocío Gomez, a 39-year-old from Argentina on vacation on Koh Tao, died during a DSD course with Pura Via Diving. During her first dive with Argentinian instructor Nahuel Martino and two other tourists, Gomez appeared to have problems with her regulator, so Martino ascended with her. They then continued back underwater, during which time Gomez disappeared from view.

Undercurrent has seen the statement Martino made (translated from Spanish and condensed by us), in which he wrote, "Before we jumped into the water, we did a buddy check and I went to the water first. The first dive went without incident. I spoke again with the three trainees, explaining how to go underwater, highlighting buoyancy control and then went diving. With regard to the second dive (when the accident occurred), we did the same. I checked everything, and then the trainees also checked the team and went to the water."

"This diving was intended to be a 36-minute dive. After 14 minutes Rocío signalled that she wanted to go up. We were 13 feet deep. She told me that she had caught a laugh attack and had the feeling of having water in her mouth. I explained that with the regulator in the mouth, one can laugh without problems and that water will not enter. After this, I asked if she wanted to continue diving. She answered that . . . she was having a great time and enjoying it a lot."

"We went back down and continued to dive 18 more minutes. Everything seemed normal. The maximum depth was 30 feet. We were going back to the boat when I asked the three if they were OK, and all three signalled yes. I turned away to check the route back to the boat. Five to seven seconds later, I found Rocío had disappeared from view, so I asked the two other trainees if they had seen her.

I started searching in the opposite direction, but not finding her, I started the ascent with my other two trainees, and when I got to the surface, I saw Rocío was being dragged to the boat by another instructor, who had found her, without regulator in the mouth, on the bottom at about 20 feet. Her mask was in place. By our calculations she may have been there from three to five minutes."

Franco Ce, Gomez's partner, traveled to Thailand when he heard the news, but complained on social media that Arlet, the Spanish manager of Pura Vida "started the conversation saying Rocío got lost, and she didn't follow safety procedures, which says if someone get lost, she must search for a minute for her fellow divers and go back to the surface to wait for their instructor."

Why isn't the dive industry horrified enough to do something about the unsafe way in which many DSD experiences are conducted? Bret Gilliam, founder of the dive training agency TDI/SDI, is one veteran who doesn't understand why there's not a crackdown. "The DSD program is dependent on precise supervision and control of the student by an instructor. There is no margin for error. These are diving participants with no prior experience and only bare minimums of skill demonstrations before beginning the dives. In almost all fatalities, the student becomes separated from the instructor, and death occurs due to stressors provoking panic. Sadly, there is an ongoing pattern of the same circumstances leading to student deaths that should prompt extensive review on standards and procedures for such programs. Yet it does not happen, and the cycle of deaths continue. It's time to wake up."

-- John Bantin

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