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February 2004 Vol. 30, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Free Diving as an Extreme Sport

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Are thrill-seeking divers pushing themselves to the limit responsible for an alarming lift in Queensland's snorkeling death statistics? Eight people died while snorkeling or free diving in the past 12 months, and only one was older than 30. Previously, statistics were dominated by older people. From 1995 to 1998, of 20 documented snorkeling deaths, 11 involved people in their 60s and 70s, with cardiac arrest blamed for several deaths.

Dive Queensland general manager Col McKenzie told Australia's Sunday Mail that said the growth in popularity of extreme sports, particularly in Europe, could be influencing the way people snorkel. Several of this year's deaths have been blamed on shallow water blackout, which occurs when snorkelers hyperventilate before submerging and then stay underwater too long.

Popularized in movies such as The Big Blue, free diving attracts people who can put themselves in a meditative state before submersing, in order to remain underwater for up to six minutes. "Before this year I hadn't heard of a shallow water blackout death in 10 years," Mr. McKenzie said. "Now all of a sudden we've had a rush." He said free diving had created a problem for dive industry regulators and operators. "How do you legislate to stop people holding their breath?" he said.

He defended the state's industry, saying it had one of the best safety records in the world. Mr. McKenzie said Queensland's one death per 450,000 dives was six times better than the world average. "In Japan, the rate is one death per 15,000 dives," he said.

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