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August 2003 Vol. 18, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Panicky Divers and Death

from the August, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

How do panicked divers die? These cases from DAN's 2003 Fatality Report explain what happens when divers panic.

A 50-year-old, moderately experienced diver was making his second dive of the day to collect scallops. He made a rapid descent and then made a rapid ascent but without his regulator in his mouth. He gasped for air on the surface and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.

A 36-year-old diver with only seven lifetime dives became separated from his buddy in a strong current. His buddy returned to the surface, then the other diver broke through the surface and called for help. But he hadn't inflated his BC or dropped his weight belt and rapidly sank to the bottom. He was found 45 minutes later, dead from an embolism.

This 42-year-old uncertified diver was making his third boat dive of the day. He separated from his buddy toward the end of the dive, then he panicked and rushed to the surface. After they recovered his body, the medical examiner concluded he had drowned after suffering an air embolism.

This 56-year-old diver had made 12 lifetime dives. During the second dive to 70 feet, she and her buddy lost their orientation. The buddy surfaced to establish their position, but when he returned she forcibly tried to pull his regulator from his mouth. He returned to the surface to get assistance. She was found unconscious on the bottom, drowned, her tank empty.

This 53-year-old diver had made 13 lifetime dives. A student in an advanced open-water class, she dived to 109 feet for 18 minutes. After a controlled ascent to 40 feet, she panicked and made a rapid ascent to the surface. She had lost one fin. During the final portion of the ascent, she did not keep the regulator in her mouth. On the surface she was unconscious and died two days later.

In several of these cases there were plenty of errors, not only by the deceased but by buddies. Nonetheless, panic was the starting point.

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