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March 2003 Vol. 18, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Spoilsport Tragedy

from the March, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I was on Mike Ball's Spoilsport in December for a seven-day trip to the Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. The first day's dive was on the Yongala. All precautions were taken, yet I couldn't help but notice that the spare tank on the wreck itself was out of air.

The following day while hanging on the deco bar, I noticed a crew member free diving to considerable depth. I asked around and learned there was a friendly competition going on between two crewmembers.

A few days later, while diving, I noticed a crewmember snorkeling on the surface. He dove, waving to divers at 100 feet and started coming back up but then sank to the bottom. A divemaster doing a Nitrox checkout dive with two guests dove down to 140 feet to get his body. He took him to 60 feet where he tried to give him air. Another crewmember dove down and took him to the surface.

An emergency alert went out for us to surface. One guest, who tried to alert the divemaster that he was very low on air just as the divemaster tried to get attention for the drowning man, was out of air when he reached the deco bar. We had been told that there was spare air there, but the tank was empty or not turned on during that dive. His buddy shared air.

The crewmember died, but they never told us that -- we assumed it when we saw all the staff crying. They told us we were returning to Townsville, a 10-hour trip. They never told us anything else, but they gave us three options: three days on the Supersport, 50 percent off a new trip, or a refund for this portion of the trip.

They took us to the police station to give statements and put us up in a hotel for three days. This was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, but -- because of the stupidity of crewmembers -- it ended in tragedy.

- Tamara Merz

The death of Mike Ball's crewmember (Mike Ball will not release his name) was one of four recent free diving deaths in Australia. This death and at least one other were caused by shallow water blackout, in which the victims hyperventilate to dive deeper and longer.

Dive Queensland general manager Col McKenzie said that the people that have died have been deliberately doing massive hyperventilation and very deep snorkeling in excess of 10 meters. "It's a deliberate act that is inherently dangerous, and that's why we've now seen three fatalities in the last 30 days," he said. He added, "In the previous 10 years we have not seen a fatality from this."

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