Some of us have been diving for so long that we
feel extremely comfortable in the underwater environment,
but then something unexpected happens,
and we have to handle it, or else we're toast.
You probably recall the concerns you had during
your first forays beneath the surface. "What
if my regulator stops all of a sudden?" "Do I
remember how to clear my mask if it floods?"
"What if I run out of air?" Most likely, you eventually
developed habits to handle such eventualities
and learned to enjoy yourself without worrying
Former dive instructors such as myself didn't
worry about crises so much, because we handled
them on a pretty regular basis -- divers in my care
have inadvertently dropped their weight belts, inexplicably attempted to make a dash for the surface,
and swam over to me showing a gauge indicating
nearly zero air left -- and good instructors
learned to anticipate such occurrences. Every dive
became a potential emergency that needed to be
shut down. But then we went sport diving and got
into the habit of looking after only ourselves, and
maybe a regular buddy. Years go by with uneventful
diving. We and our buddies enjoy "same ocean
diving" until an emergency underwater happens.
And that's when we'll discover what diving skills
we really have.
However, a little knowledge can also be a dangerous
thing. I remember well a dive with a group
on a submerged pinnacle, where the skipper had
dropped a buoyed shotline to mark the spot,
but one diver had pulled herself down the rope, unsuspectingly pulling the locating weight off the
pinnacle. It plunged downward to the depths, and
she pulled herself down with it.
Meanwhile, her two buddies returned to the
surface, reluctant to pursue her. It needed decisive
action, so I descended past the inadequate submerged
buoy (now crushed up by the pressure at
around 60 feet deep) and found her unaware of
what had happened -- and without a depth gauge
or computer -- at more than 200 feet. I brought her
back up, making the required deco stop at 20 feet,
and fortunately, she had no issues.
Her buddies later said that they couldn't get
to her because she went deeper than 185 feet, the
maximum operating depth for the air we were
breathing. Despite both being experienced divers,
they were unable to make the right decision at
the right time because it was outside their experience
-- they preferred to cling to the dogma of
the training manual. But like any experienced
instructor, I was ready for unplanned emergencies
and determined we weren't going to lose a diver
on my watch. Any other experienced instructor
would have done the same.
However, consider the sad story in our March
issue, "The Fatal Effects of 'Rapture of the Deep,"
of a death of a 64-year-old diver who went deeper than he should have, and how his wife, a middleaged
grandmother, nearly managed to get to him
in time, but failed. We questioned why a younger
and fitter dive guide had not come to the rescue
and guessed it was because the diver had gone
deeper than the maximum operating depth of the
nitrox they were all using. But oxygen toxicity
would not have come into play during the short
time the dive guide would have needed to get
down there and bring the man back up. He might
not have known that. It just needed the right decision
to be made at the right time.
So, how do you prepare for emergencies and
make the right decisions? Practice, practice, practice.
Do air-sharing and mask removal underwater
with a buddy. Hope for the best, but plan for the
worst. Of course, there's nothing better than realworld
experience -- doing CPR for real is very different
from practicing on a dummy -- but training to tackle a developing problem before it becomes
a crisis is a better route to take.
Keep a close eye on those with whom you dive.
Most of all, avoid being casual when in the familiar,
yet hostile, environment called underwater.
-- John Bantin