Diver Down - Death After Dark
He began his ascent, but was stunned when, moments later, he clanged into a solid rock ceiling. Confused, he dropped down a few feet, swam forward and
Lessons for Life - Dive Accidents, Close Calls & How You Can Avoid Them
By Mike Ange
Each Diver Down case presented on Seaduction.com is based on a true case that has been and thoroughly investigated using official sources and interviews with participants and witnesses. Names and some minor details have been changed to protect victims and their families.
DEATH AFTER DARK
Unnerved by the limited visibility, running low on air and suddenly feeling very alone, Jose decided he'd had enough fun for the night. His buddies had already surfaced from their unauthorized late-night romp in the freshwater quarry, but Jose stayed behind to explore the rock wall of the site for a few more minutes. He began his ascent, but was stunned when, moments later, he clanged into a solid rock ceiling. Confused, he dropped down a few feet, swam forward and tried to surface again-only to find the rock ceiling again. It was a process he would repeat several times over the last few minutes of his life.
The divers were all in their early- to mid-20s, in excellent health and they held advanced certifications. In fact, they were all working through a professional development center to become dive instructors. They had a good grasp of diving procedures, physics, and physiology as a result of their training.
A Friday night found the four divers hanging out, playing cards and possibly consuming a little alcohol. Eventually, boredom overtook the crew and they went out to find something more exciting to do. They decided to make a midnight dive in a local freshwater quarry frequently used by local dive groups and instructors. That the site was closed after dark and that they were entering without permission only added to the thrill. Although popular for open-water instruction, the site had significant hazards and the owners of the quarry required all div ers to have an orientation before entering. Of course, at midnight, no one was paying attention to any of these rules.
The divers quickly suited up, entered the water and descended a fixed guide line to a depth of 100 feet. The visibility was atrocious. Recent rains had clouded the water and instead of the usual 50 to 60 feet of visibility, Jose and his buddies found they could barely see 5 feet in front of them. Wisely, the divers decided to stay close to the ascent line for most of the dive. As the four began to ascend, Jose noticed that he still about half a cylinder of air left and signaled his buddy that he was going back down. The buddy signaled no. They were ending the dive. Jose reportedly agreed and the group resumed their ascent.
At between 70 and 80 feet, Jose's dive buddy lost sight of his friend in the murky water. Deciding to stick with the plan, he continued to ascend, expecting to meet his friend at the surface. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Jose apparently descended back to the bottom and began swimming along the wall of the dive site.
One of the hazards of the site is a large rock overhang between 30 and 40 feet deep that technically forms a very large and very deep cavern. As Jose swam around the inside of the wall in the extremely limited visibility, he entered the cavern zone without realizing it. When he attempted to ascend, he collided head-first into the ceiling. Trapped, he would ram his body upward several times, dropping down a few feet swimming forward and ascending again, over and over until his tanks ran dry. His last effort pushed him into the rock once again where he apparently lost consciousness and plummeted to the bottom, 104 feet below.
On the surface, the three surviving divers became distraught with the fact that Jose had not surfaced and that they could no longer find his bubbles breaking the surface of the water. After a short time, they decided to contact authorities and a local law enforcement agency was dispa tched to the scene.
The poor visibility and the overhead environment added to the hazards normally found in a recovery operation. Because of the limited visibility, search and rescue divers had to work slowly and use guide lines to ensure that they did not swim into the cavern or cave areas and find themselves lost and unable to reach the surface. As a result, local authorities eventually called in a group of specially trained cave divers qualified for recovery work in an overhead environment. It would take them two full days of diving to finally locate Jose's body.
Jose's tank was completely empty and all of his equipment was still firmly in place, indicating that he probably never had a full-scale panic attack. He simply swam into the overhead environment and was unable to find his way out before he ran out of air.
Jose made several errors that led to his death. First, it appears that he and his dive buddies decided to do a dive immediately after consuming some quantity of alcohol. Then, he decided to separate from his buddy during the course of a dive in limited visibility, putting both himself and his buddy at risk. By choosing to stay behind, Jose became a solo diver, something he was neither equipped nor trained for. Finally, he refused to acknowledge the inherent hazards of the limited visibility. Even with their high-powered cave lights, the recovery team would note that they had far less than 10 feet of visibility. Jose, who was diving with a much less powerful beam, would have experienced a dramatically reduced field of vision.
He had dived the site before, so Jose should have been aware of the cavern zone and the possibility of finding himself beneath the rock ceiling, especially given the limited visibility. Since the cavern had no natural light penetration, it would have been classified as a full cav e dive. Had Jose been properly trained in cave diving, he would have recognized the dangers of entering the cavern without a guide line or any other navigation reference to help him find the exit at the end of his dive.
Based upon the location of his recovered body, it appears that Jose was swimming in the proper direction to reach the exit and open water; unfortunately, he simply ran out of air before he found his way home.
Lessons for Life
- Don't drink and dive. This one should be obvious.
- Dive your plan. If you enter the water with your buddy, exit with a buddy.
- Don't dive solo unless properly trained and equipped.
- Don't dive in any dive site without authorization. Sites can be closed for any number of reasons including some very valid safety concerns.
- Don't dive caverns or caves unless properly trained and equipped. Untrained divers make up almost all cave diving fatalities.
- Don't let completion of a few advanced courses lead to fatal arrogance. No matter how advanced a diver you are, the rules of physics, physiology and common sense will always trump your certifications.