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October 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When It Comes to Diving, Donít Trust the BBC

from the October, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The BBC ran a podcast in late July about how a scuba diver ended up in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. However, the episode has raised questions in the dive world about whether the news broadcaster got the facts straight.

In August 2009, Richard Osborn and three other diving instructors made a dive on their day off from working at a dive center near Ayia Napa in Cyprus. They say they went to 133 feet deep, where two of them ran out of air. During the air-sharing ascent, the other two also ran out of air at 100 feet. Two got bent during the following emergency free ascent, and Osborn, then 21, was the worst affected.

There are some discrepancies in the story as told. First, it describes how they anchored their boat, yet says they later swam to shore. It says the dives were well planned, which they patently were not. How did all four diving instructors run out of air? The water around Cyprus is very clear and with hardly any tidal range, so there are no currents to speak of.

Some social media users suggest they must have suffered nitrogen narcosis, because none of them monitored their air supplies. The podcast transcript states that they exchanged written messages after the first two ran out of air. Unlikely, although Osborn says in the podcast, "As we're all dive professionals, we've got extensive training in how to communicate under water and things like that. There are also little slates and pencils that we all carry with our dive gear, so if we can't communicate with hand signals, we can write down what's going on and get the message across to everyone who's diving."

The two bent divers were transported by road across the island to a hyperbaric facility (a journey of more than three hours), where they were treated for decompression illness. The BBC reporter inaccurately said says Osborn's spine was crushed, when in fact DCI would only have caused nerve damage to his spinal cord.

Was this poor reporting by the BBC? Or, with sympathy to the casualty, could we be cynical to suggest that, for all four divers to have run out of air, they changed the facts to state that they dived less deep than they actually had so as not to affect their insurance coverage? PADI recreational divers are certified to a maximum depth of 133 feet, and most insurance policies limit maximum depths to that of a diver's certification or less. For all four divers to run out of air suggests they did a much deeper dive.

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