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August 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lessons Learned from Dead Divers

from the August, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent contributor Ken Kurtis, owner of the dive operator Reef Seekers in Beverly Hills, CA, is also the scuba consultant to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. Ever year he leads the "Why Divers Die" panel at the big summer Scuba Show in Long Beach. Here is his summary of this year's panel.

We "only" had three fatalities in L.A. County last year, but two of them involved divers running out of air. Over-weighting further complicated the first fatality -- the diver ditched his weights, close to 50 pounds of lead, but he was still negative and sank -- and failure to ditch weights likely complicated the second fatality.

Running out of air while diving is far more dangerous than we, as an industry, are willing to acknowledge. If you do run out of air, your chances of surviving are likely slim. A rule I've always used is to multiply your depth times 10 and start your ascent with no less than that amount of air, and never less than 500 psi. So at 100 feet -- the depth at which both these accidents occurred -- you should be starting up with 1,000 psi. You should be on the surface with no less than 300 psi. If you've screwed up and you're running too low, the safety stop is a great idea -- but only if you have enough air.

In our first scenario, the diver had roughly 100 psi at 100 feet, and at 20 feet, made a safety stop -- with only 60 psi. That's where he ran out of air and unsuccessfully tried to make it to the surface. (He had a buddy with him, also extremely low on air, who was unable to help.) Had he not made the safety stop, it's likely he would have made it to the surface. If you're concerned that missing a safety or deco stop might cause you to get bent, remember: We can cure the bends, but we can't cure dead.

Although over-weighting didn't cause either accident, it may have prevented the possibility of the eventual outcomes simply being close calls. In the first case, the diver wore way too much weight, along with a steel tank and some non-ditchable weights -- enough to sink him.

In the second case, a belt presumed to be 10 to 14 pounds was ditched but never recovered, and the guy still had 22 pounds on him -- enough to hold him down. He made it to the surface (people heard him call for help) at least once and perhaps as many as three times.

Ditching all your weight should provide immediate floatation, and even if you go unconscious, the speed in which a floating unconscious diver will be recovered far exceeds the speed in which a position-unknown unconscious diver will be recovered. It's simple: Ditch your weights, save your life.

Regarding the second fatality, some people said "There wasn't any air in the tank, so how could you inflate the BC?" The solution is, orally. A lot of divers either don't know or have forgotten that you can orally inflate your BC rather than using the tank inflator. You don't need to get wet to practice this. Just put your BC on in your living room and practice inflating it orally.

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