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February 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Getting a Post-Dive Call from the U.S. Air Force

from the February, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Divers doing drift dives and trips to remote destinations could find it worthwhile to bring along an Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which, when activated, will send out a distress signal via satellite to identify the position of the user and alert the search-and rescue team. EPIRBs are water-resistant on the surface, but typically they’re not pressure proof, so a diver must protect it in a pressure-proof canister during the dive. Sometimes canisters have their own issues, like flooding, and as Undercurrent subscriber Marc Pinto (Denver, CO), found out, it can cause plenty of action above water while you’re finning blissfully unawares. Here’s his story.

I took a trip to Cozumel last year and dived with Deep Exposure Dive Center. On one day of that trip, my buddy and I were the only divers, and upon surfacing from a dive, the folks on the boat said someone from the U.S. Air Force wanted to speak to me. Not having much regular contact with the USAF, it only took me a few minutes to think to check my EPIRB canister before calling the guy back. It was then I discovered that the canister had flooded (due, I believe, to my mistake of not opening the canister to equalize the pressure before diving with it). It apparently got out a partial transmission before succumbing to water damage, but that was enough to alert the USAF Search and Rescue folks, and also to identify the message as having come from my EPIRB, since I re-register it periodically. But it was not enough to also transmit my location. So a USAF Captain contacted my emergency contact, who, unable to reach me, called Deep Exposure.

I sheepishly called the Air Force Captain, who was quite nice, but had apparently been insistent in wanting to speak directly to me, despite being told by the Deep Exposure people that all was well. I apologized profusely, and pleaded with him to not put me on any sort of “guys crying wolf” list, because if I ever really needed to deploy my EPIRB, I was quite interested in having them show up.

The story ended well: There was no emergency, the USAF was not upset with me, and I gained additional comfort in diving with the EPIRB, knowing it actually worked as it was supposed to.

But two asides. First, while an EPIRB is helpful in any number of problem situations, there are likely many remote dive locations where, even if the USAF knew we were in trouble, there wouldn’t be anyone on the other end for them to contact to actually give assistance. And second, in my roughly eight years of diving, I have never seen anther diver diving with an EPIRB. Apparently, that level of safety doesn’t sell.

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