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February 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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British Report on Dive Deaths: The Aging Diver Is at Risk

from the February, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While the Divers Alert Network has stopped publishing its annual report of U.S. dive deaths and accidents, the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), its counterpart in the U.K., still does so. Its Annual Diving Incident Report for 2014 records a total of 216 incidents between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014. While the number of reported accidents has increased during the past three years, the number of dive-related deaths has not. DCS cases totaled just 57 in 2014, compared to 91 in 2013, and there were 16 deaths. Besides the usual causes -- rapid ascents, buoyancy control, out of air, etc. -- there was also an increase in the number of cases in which inflation or dump valves on BCDs or drysuits malfunctioned.

One death involved a solo snorkeler, another involved a diver who died by breathing poisonous gas in a dry passage in a partially flooded mine. Four cases involved a buddy separation of some kind. Six cases involved divers diving in a group of three; in two of these cases, the casualties became separated from their buddies in low visibility conditions.

Five confirmed cases involved divers who suffered heart attacks while in the water -- the average age of these divers was 60. BSAC was frank in its concern about aging divers, stating, "There are now three times as many divers over 50, compared to the population 15 years ago. Viewed in this light, it is perhaps no surprise that we have seen increased fatalities of the 'older diver' . . . In the last two years, all nine fatalities attributed to medical causes were of divers aged 50 or over; this number is significantly higher than the average age of non-medical fatalities, which is 42 years.

"Older divers are advised to take account of the increased likelihood of a medical event when considering the type of diving in which they engage, and those diving with them should be more aware of the increased risk. Currently it is not possible to screen for latent medical problems that may predispose older divers to in-water medical events. Accurate and honest reporting in the medical declaration form . . . is the correct approach." Of course it is, but until divers actually follow that, the number of dive-related deaths probably won't drop significantly.

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