In April, Dan Carlock of Santa
Monica, CA, was forgotten at sea
while diving off the Sun Diver out
of Long Beach. Carlock drifted
alone for five hours in 60-degree
water about seven miles offshore,
praying for his life before being
spotted by a Boy Scout aboard a
century-old tall ship.
The Associated Press reported
that the 45-year-old aerospace engineer
entered the water off
Huntington Beach on a foggy
Sunday morning, but he had problems
equalizing and fell behind.
He tried following his buddy's bubbles
but lost them and decided to
end the dive after 15 minutes. By
that time he was already 400 feet
down current from an oil platform
where the boat was anchored. He
blew his whistle, but the foghorn
on the oil rig drowned it out. He
inflated a safety sausage, but the
fog was too heavy for it to be
noticed. "I figured when the dive
was over they would realize I was
missing and come looking for
me," Carlock said. But no one did.
Assuming he'd be picked up
when the other divers surfaced,
Carlock told the San Diego Union-
Tribune, "I was watching my watch,
trying to ball park when people
would be running out of air. At 60
minutes you go, 'There's no one
diving -- they're all in the process
of getting onboard.' I told myself
this isn't undue cause for alarm.Maybe there are other people in
trouble beyond me."
What he didn't know at the
time was that no one onboard realized
he was missing. As a divemaster
from Ocean Adventures Dive
Company (the Venice-based shop
that organized the excursion) ran
through a verbal roster check, an
air compressor went down, distracting
the divers and crew.
Carlock's name was missed.
According to Steve Ladd, owner of
OADC, "Dan's dive buddy did not
report that they had become separated
and that Dan had not
returned." After the interrupted
roll call, the three divemasters
from the shop did not perform a
"I'm not foolish. Before I dive again, I
want to make sure changes are made and
back-up systems are in place."
Faced with murky water and a
strong current, and not realizing
anything was wrong, the rest of the
group decided to move about nine
miles north to explore a shipwreck.
Carlock took photographs of
himself to document that he had
made it to the surface. An hour
and a half later he dropped his weight belt and periodically noted
the time on a slate."It was like the
movie 'Castaway,'" Carlock said
later. "There was a need to mark my
existence." After about two hours in
the water, Carlock started to shiver.
But eventually the sun supplied
some heat. "That's why I feared that
if I wasn't picked up by nightfall it
would be bad news," he said.
It was only following the second
dive of the day that Carlock's
absence was discovered, but the
crew assumed incorrectly that he
had disappeared at the second site.
Sun Diver Captain Ray Arntz alerted
the Coast Guard around noon,
about two hours after leaving the
original location, and a team of
divers went down to survey the wreck. The divemaster slate had
logged Carlock out of the water at
the last site and back in the water
at the next site! And he wasn't
even on the boat.
While the Coast Guard, recreational
diving instructors, Long
Beach lifeguards, and L.A. Fire
Department personnel searched for the missing diver in the wrong
part of the ocean, Carlock continued
to drift. Later, he told his harrowing
tale on Good Morning
America. "I thought about all the
things that I've left unfinished in
my life, and all the people that
would have to make up for my
mess. And, you know, all the living
that I haven't lived yet," he
recalled. (It seems that lost divers,
like shark attack victims, are now
entitled to 15 minutes of fame.)
After five hours, Boy Scout
crew trainee Zack Mayberry, 15,
aboard the tall ship Argus, spotted
Carlock's head sticking out of the
water about 150 yards away.
Mayberry handed his binoculars to
a friend. "I wanted to make sure
my eyes weren't playing tricks on
me," Mayberry said. Eventually
Carlock, himself an ex-Boy Scout,
was plucked from the sea. He was given warm clothes and hot liquids,
and eventually taken back to
the Sun Diver by the Coast Guard.
Lieutenant Commander John
Fassero, Chief of Coast Guard's
Investigations Dept. in the Los
Angeles area, is investigating the
incident. He told Undercurrent
that Captain Arntz has been
charged with negligence, and the
Coast Guard is negotiating a settlement
with him that may mitigate
the terms of his suspension.Fassero notes that Arntz has an
"outstanding record in the dive
community," and has volunteered
to contact other dive boat skippers
to compare notes on roll calls and
other procedures. "The captain is
ultimately responsible for the passengers"
under Coast Guard regulations,
Fassero points out. And
although the CG investigation
shows that culpability in this incident is "widespread among the
divemasters and the diver himself,
with weather a contributing factor,
Arntz was charged a because he
holds Coast Guard credentials.
Someone has to have accountability,"
says Fassero. He added that
PADI is reviewing the divemaster's
Fassero is also meeting with
PADI officials and several dive boat
captains to discuss methods of
improving onboard roll calls.
Southern California's dive boat
fleet is not organized, and there
are no standard procedures.
Eric Bowman, owner and
operator of the popular liveaboard
Peace, out of Ventura,
points out that some boats charter
strictly through dive shops and
require the shops to provide divemasters.
That means that different divemasters work each trip.
Others, such as Bowman, employ
their own crew, following their
Glen Fritzler, captain of the
Santa Barbara-based Truth, told
Undercurrent that his fleet "stopped
using the oral roll call system back
in the early '70s because it simply
does not work." Instead, he maintains,
"We use a plastic board and ask each diver his name. If we are
missing someone we continue our
search onboard until we find him
or her or start a full-blown search
(U/W recall, diver search, etc.). We
also perform a tank count in conjunction
with the roll call so you
can tell if someone is in the water."
Sounds good, but in 1995 I
was on a lobster dive when the
Truth left a diver behind, and no one missed him until another boat
pulled up with our missing shipmate
aboard. This highly competitive
lone wolf had been the first in
and last out on virtually every dive.
Not only didn't he have a buddy,
but he made no personal connections
with any of the other divers
aboard. So when he slipped
through the Truth's log-in system,
none of the passengers missed him
either. Later he told us that after
the Truth left him off San Nicholas
Island, he swam for three hours to
catch up with the other dive boat.
Not surprisingly, he kept hold of
his bag of bugs the entire time.
Fritzler also offered the dive
industry's standard knee-jerk reaction
to the Coast Guard's involvement
in dive boat procedures. "We
should remain a self-governing
group and keep government out
of our business," he told
Undercurrent, adding that he was
currently repairing another vessel,
Vision, "after a government agency
struck the boat while at anchor!"
LCDR Fassero points out that
this is the first stranding he's
encountered in four years of service
in Southern California. He's
not promulgating new regulations
at this point. Rather, he's trying "to
get the industry to recognize the
need for improvement and their
voluntary cooperation to look for
solutions." He adds that diving is,
after all, a recreational activity. "It's
not supposed to be laborious."
Fassero is aware of Divers Alert
Network's Diver Identification
System (DIDS), which DAN sells to
boat operators. At the beginning
of each dive trip, the divemaster
assigns each diver an individually
numbered DAN Tag, with the dive
operation name and phone number.
When the diver is on the boat,
he or she places the DAN Tag on
the DIDS board. Before diving, the
diver removes the tag and clips it
to his or her buoyancy compensator.
The tag number will also correspond to the divemaster's roster
number. When returning to the
boat, the diver unclips the tag and
returns it to the board. Fassero
believes that this system has had
limited acceptance among dive
boat operators because the tags
can be lost. To him, "The conscientiousness
of divemasters visually
identifying the divers is the most
Ironically, Carlock was diving
with a shop and on a boat he's
used many times, yet still he was
overlooked. "There's definitely
some anger on my part," Carlock
said, adding that he did not plan
to seek legal action. "They're kind
of like family, and I don't want to
destroy that." Ocean Adventures
has suspended two staffers from
divemaster responsibilities. "We are closely examining our existing procedures,
the guidelines recommended
by PADI, and those utilized
by other dive shops," says
Steve Ladd, adding that he has
stressed the need for visual as well
as audio check-ins during roll call.
As for the "buddy" who didn't
stick with Carlock (he was assigned
to him just before the dive) and
who didn't report their separation,
Carlock came face-to-face with the
man (who happens to be a scuba
instructor) when the Coast Guard
eventually returned him to the Sun
Diver. "Some people asked me if I
tore into him," Carlock said. "It was
too surreal -- I was more avoiding
him. The anger comes out later."
Carlock maintains his experience
wouldn't stop him from diving.
"To me, adventure and pressing
forth is a natural part of who I
am and who we are as a species --
to shrink back is not an option,"
Carlock said. "But I'm not foolish.
Before I dive again I want to make
sure changes are made and backup
systems are in place."
Although Fassero has been
criticized by some divers for suspending
the well-regarded captain,
he says his aim is to send a
message to all dive boat skippers.
"The captain must be expected to
be situationally aware of environmental
risk conditions which call
for greater due diligence, he told
Undercurrent, and recommends
that every skipper set standards
(hopefully universal ones) for
divemasters to follow when conducting