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November 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Tough Lesson to Learn from a Dive Tragedy

from the November, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It may be an extreme case, but it's one we can all learn from. Back in August 2012, Lex Warner was on the deck of the MV Jean Elaine, preparing to dive a wreck off Cape Wrath in northwest Scotland. A 50-year-old experienced recreational and technical diver, Warner had received his trimix certification three years prior and was a member of the "Dark Star," an informal but invitation-only group of experienced technical divers.

Ready to dive and seriously loaded with a trimix rebreather, two open-circuit bailout tanks, and the other paraphernalia required for such a deep, dark dive, Warner slipped and fell on the heaving deck of MV Jean Elaine. He was so loaded down, he could not get himself up. Skipper Andy Cuthbertson and deckhand Allan Stanger helped him to his feet. With mouthpiece in, Warner nodded he was OK. Minutes later, he was descending onto the wreck far below.

Other divers saw Warner at both 130 feet and 230 feet, and he appeared to be swimming well, but at 290 feet deep and only 10 minutes since his deck fall, his dive computer revealed, upon later examination, that he started heading back on the long route to the surface. His breathing appeared normal, but by the time he reached 66 feet, he was struggling to breathe and control his buoyancy.

Other divers tried to help Warner, but by this time, he was without any breathing equipment in his mouth, and eventually they had no alternative but to send him shooting to the surface by means of an emergency lifting bag. Attempts to resuscitate Warner at the surface failed, and he was declared dead at the hospital.

A post-mortem examination revealed he had suffered internal injuries inconsistent with diving, which the medical examiner attributed to his fall on the boat. Several months later, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, alerted by Warner's wife, reviewed the findings and decided he died from decompression sickness due to ascending and missing decompression requirements. However, both sets of doctors agreed that Warner's internal injuries were a medical emergency in their own right.

What can be learned from this? If you are not 100 percent fit and well before diving, don't press on regardless, thinking it will be better underwater. It won't. And that doesn't matter whether you are doing an extreme technical dive or a simple one down to 60 feet.

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