Entangled in kelp by night
Dave’s tank slipped out of his BC strap five minutes into the dive. He alerted Tim, and signalled that he was going to surface to adjust his gear.
Dave and Tim went up while Sam, unaware of their decision, continued with the dive.
When Dave and Tim returned to the boat, they realised that Sam had not followed and were unsure of his location. After a brief surface search they concluded that he must still be at depth.
While freediving, Ron saw Sam entangled in thick kelp at about 7.5m depth. Sam was still wearing his mask, and his regulator was in his mouth. He was conscious and fighting to free himself from the kelp.
Sam began to panic, causing him to flail and become even more entangled. After several unsuccessful attempts to free him, Ron returned to the surface and alerted the others that Sam was entangled and needed help.
Eric responded with scuba-gear from the boat. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived Sam was no longer wearing his mask, his regulator was not in his mouth, and he was not breathing.
Eric cut Sam free and brought him to the surface. Another boat-crew had heard the calls for help and were there to pull Sam out of water.
CPR was started immediately, and Sam was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Understanding the root causes and the series of events leading to a dive fatality is important for the prevention of future incidents.
Investigators recovered Sam’s dive-gear, which they tested and found to be working properly. The tank contained around 140 bar, indicating that Sam had not run out of air, but his regulator was not in his mouth when he was recovered.
The trigger in this case was kelp entanglement, which made this dive an emergency and began the chain of events that led to the fatality.
Sam’s panic served as the disabling agent, causing him to engage in irrational behaviour that didn’t help to resolve the entanglement and led him to drop his regulator. That in turn caused him to suffer asphyxia and drown.
Sam had some previous experience but lacked proper training and had never night-dived before. Dave and Tim also lacked formal training and certification, though they had more experience.
Formal scuba training prepares a diver to respond calmly and confidently to emergency situations. Diving that involves unique risks – in this case, night-diving, lobster-hunting and kelp-forest diving – requires additional training, preparedness and appropriate equipment. Acquiring certifications for such environments is recommended.
Diving in kelp requires streamlined equipment to reduce entanglement risk, and the carrying of a cutting tool. Sam lacked such a cutter, and we don’t know whether his equipment was streamlined.
As well as being responsible for one’s own safety by obtaining training for risky environments, it’s also wise to dive with a divemaster and/or rescue diver trained to react in emergencies.
Buddy-diving means diving in pairs, not in an odd-numbered group. Pair-diving is the best practice to prevent buddy separation.
In a group of three or more, miscommunication between buddies is more likely even for trained divers, because it can be unclear who has been in communication with which buddy.
Dave and Tim communicated the ascent to one another, but Sam was not included. This may have contributed to his panic, because he couldn’t locate others to help free him from the kelp.
This fatal incident was caused by a foreseeable factor, and although lack of formal training may have contributed, there are other valuable lessons in this tragedy that certified divers should not overlook.
THE HIGH PRICE OF TWO RINGS
Wearing a wedding-ring is clearly a statement but, ladies and gentlemen, do you really need to wear one while diving? Read our story and consider…
It was around the Christmas holiday season of 2014/15, when two similar cases arose. Two DAN members in different parts of the world – the Maldives and Brazil – both almost lost their ring-fingers while diving.
Who wouldn’t hold on to some railing on a shaky boat because another boat passed by too close, or sea conditions were a bit rough? That’s what the men did while getting ready for the giant stride to start their dives.
If you do that, however, watch out for screws, hooks or other tiny protruding metal pieces. Hurricane-cover screws, for example, can be quite deceptive. If a ring gets caught on it, holding the weight of the diver and his equipment as well as the force of the jump is impossible.
A finger cannot withstand such force for long and will in moments be parted from the rest of the body. This happened to both men.
While one of the divers dived into the water beneath him his finger stayed hanging on the screw, attached by the ring. An awkward scene but good in a way, because the crew could collect the finger – or what was left of it. They then saved it on some ice for re-attachment to the hand.
In the other man’s case the finger was ripped off and fell into the sea! Fortunately his wife, who was already in the water, was able to recover it.
Both cases were a shock for everyone and very painful for the victims. However, the boat’s crew was extremely helpful, called the emergency services immediately, and gave first aid to stop the bleeding and calm down the men.
In Brazil, they were able to call a helicopter – luckily, the victim’s friend was a pilot – so, he was quickly evacuated to a clinic in Sao Paolo, along with his finger.
The diver in the Maldives was brought by boat to the nearest clinic in Male, then to Singapore for sophisticated surgery. Reconnecting nerves, tendons, muscles, bones, cartilage, blood vessels and skin while trying to keep full functionality is tricky. That particular miracle took seven hours in the operating theatre.
After such an injury and surgery, it is no surprise that there is necrosis – dying surrounding tissue – during the wound healing process. The Brazilian doctors fought it off by hyperbaric O2 treatment (HBOT) in a recompression chamber.
Not only was surgery extensive but recovery took an extremely long time – and it still does. Well over a year of physiotherapy can be required before a detached finger regains full sensitivity.
The costs of evacuation, hand surgery, hospitalising and hyperbaric treatment amounted in one of these cases to some 100,000 euros.
We at DAN Europe thought this was a story to share. You may spare yourself a lot of trouble when you consider leaving your jewellery, especially rings but also earrings and piercings, at home before you go diving.