scuba monkey rescue breathing accident article

Sometimes, sadly, things can go wrong.

 

Social media is and always has been a double-edged sword. It can be used to spread good ideas, spark discussion and facilitate friendships. It can also be used for trolling, posting an infinite number of ‘cats falling over’ videos or inciting racism and hate. It led Stephen Fry to leave Twitter due to the a constant barrage of bile and vitriol he was receiving. You pay your money, you take your choice.

 

Scuba diving posts and videos are becoming more prevalent over the internet. Most of this driven by the affordability of technology. Every budding diver now buys an underwater camera before they hone their dive skills. This, again, is driven by social media.

 

That means that sometimes horror diving videos are posted on the internet. Is that a good or a bad thing? Is it better to show these things so people can learn from them? Or is it an invasion of privacy for those involved? Can we justify restricting these scuba accident videos when you’re only a couple of clicks away from road accident footage? How should it be monitored or policed? That’s a whole debate to be had.

 

Rescue Breaths

 

However, for the purposes of this article I thought I’d give my comment on one video that went viral and appeared to spark a lot of interest – eventually arriving on my desk. Just to be clear, this is simply my feedback and risk management advice as an Instructor that has spent over 10 years in pretty most diving environments. This isn’t an endorsement or comment from any training agency.

 

The video you’re about to watch took place in 2012 and is of an ‘Advanced Training Dive’ in South Africa. It’s what appears to be four divers; two students (Waseem and Doug), who we assume to be a Divemaster/Divemaster Trainee (called Niki “who keeps everyone calm”) and an Instructor.

 

The video is around 7 minutes long, so grab a coffee, sit back, relax and take a look:

 

 

Now, what was wrong with this dive? Well, pretty much everything. Ok. Firstly, it’s lucky that everyone survived (as far as I’m aware) injury free. That’s good. I’m pleased. Now let’s look at the negatives or, at least the things that stand out to me as issues.

 

Before we even enter the water, why was the student (the cameraman, who I believe is called Doug – student 2) even filming in the first place?? Cameras are a distraction even with experienced divers on a simple dive, never mind a student on their first deeper dive. Even if Doug had the camera strapped to his forehead or wrist with one of those straps it still, psychologically, leads divers to consider the footage they’ll be getting first and their safety second. It’s like driving a car round a series of cones while on a mobile phone: neither your driving or your conversation is at it’s best! It subconsciously effects their decision making. Had it been my class I would have had a polite conversation with the diver and explained that this was ‘…a training dive and full attention is required. Perhaps, if all goes to plan, the camera can come in on subsequent dives.’ The camera would have remained on the boat.

 

Taking the overall picture of the dive, ask yourself as an observer – do these two students look ready for the deep dive? Does the dive site and the conditions appear conducive to the skill and comfort level of the two divers? One of the tell-tale signs of a novice divers is ‘wafting’: the bad technique of waving hands and arms around in the water as the diver has inadequate control and skill. These two guys are flailing around like they’re dancing the Charleston or auditioning for a production of Riverdance. Had they been adequately pre-assessed, a Peak Performance Buoyancy course instead of a Deep Adventure dive may have been a preferable choice at this stage in their diving. They lack control and it’s this lack of control that acts as trigger for the series of events that follow.

 

Yes, telling someone that perhaps they need to polish their skills before progressing to the next level of their training is a difficult conversation to have, but a necessary one. As dive professionals, that’s what we’re paid to do – give professional advice and use good judgement. No, some customers may not like it. But that’s the job. Although some recreational divers may believe otherwise, Instructors know some things they don’t.

 

While we’re on the basics, we’ll give the instructor the benefit of the doubt and assume that the dive has been planned correctly with depth and time considerations. We’ll also assume that buddy checks were completed, but who is buddied with who exactly? To be at this stage in their diving the divers must be qualified divers. This means they should be aware of the buddy system and that it is their responsibility – the students – to stick together. Under some training agencies they would have signed their agreement to this. Doug and Waseem should have been together from beginning to end of dive, no more than a handful of fin kicks away from each other and, preferably on their first deep dive, right next to each other. This is a failing on both their parts.

 

Next is the descent. This is a wreck dive. Look at 0:44. There is a shot line leading down from the surface. And this is the first ‘deep dive’ these guys have done. Again, we’re back to good judgement. There’s a line, make use of it! There may be water movement, anxiety issues or ear problems with the students. Plus, as someone who coaches instructor candidates, I always emphasise control criteria on training dives. The instructor should have briefed the dive accordingly and positioned himself so that each diver is next to the line before decending. Then, and only then, the group should leave the surface in formation: the instructor leading the group to set the pace and assess conditions. The two student ‘buddies’ behind communicating with each other, staying level and adjusting buoyancy to descend slowly and not exceeding the instructor’s pace. The DM should have been just above the students – sandwiching them – and able to monitor their comfort, safety and progress. And ALL should have been grasping the line in their RIGHT hand and (initially) descending feet first before leveling off and easing into a nice controlled diving position as they progress away from the surface.

 

Using the right hand to hold the line serves multiple purposes:

 

  1. It allows the student divers to stop their descent should they encounter ear problems.
  2. It allows the Instructor below to act as a barrier to prevent the students exceeding a safe decent/ascent rate.
  3. It allows the students to make buoyancy adjustments, equalise and communicate via hand signals with each other with their left arm – where all buoyancy adjustment takes place – while simultaneously monitoring their depth on their dive computers – which should be mounted on their RIGHT wrists for that reason.
  4. The knock on effect of taking these steps is that it may increase student diver control and decrease student diver anxiety mid-water.

 

Then, finally, when all four divers together arrive at the wreck below the group can then make a final adjustment for neutral buoyancy and check their buddy(s) are ok before releasing their grip on the line and beginning the dive proper.

 

So what actually happened? 0:46 student 1 decides to (wrongly) duck dive head first from the surface and head deeper at an alarming rate leaving the rest of the group. Was Student 1 crazy? Had he lost control? Had he not listened to the briefing? Let’s leave to one side these questions. The fact remains he has irresponsibly abandoned his buddy and shot off on his own. By 1:17 he’s several metres below the group, on his own, with the Instructor appearing to be chasing after him as quickly as his ears allow.

 

Taking students on their first deep dive can be a very focusing experience. One good rule of thumb as an Instructor is to always position yourself so that you or your DM can make immediate physical contact with your students – you need to be in a position to assist your students if required. However, regardless of what the instructor had briefed, Student 1 had taken it upon himself to ignore his group and head down on his own. It is at this point, for me, the dive would have also taken a different course.

 

Presented with this situation, the Instructor has essentially two ‘safer’ options, again depending on his professional judgement. One, he signals to his DM to stay with Student 2 and that they should (together) surface while the Instructor apprehends Student 1 and aborts the dive. Or, two, he signals to the DM to stay with Student 1 and slowly follow down on the line while he, the instructor, apprehends Student 1, checks he’s ok, and waits for DM and Student 2 at the bottom of the line for 1 minute. Then, if DM and student 2 do not appear, abort and begin a safe ascent up the line together.

 

What happens, in contrast, is Student 1 is on his own, being chased by the Instructor. The DM (for some reason) has abandoned Student 2, who is mid-water. This leaves Student 2, by 1:30 into the footage mid-water, with a burst ear, breathing like he’s Sepp Blatter in a FIFA investigation room – out of control and teetering on the brink of panic. And ALL are too far away from their one control point, the shot line, except the DM who is on the line with her back to Student 2.

 

2:19, Student 1 finally realises “Hey, I have a buddy!” and flaps over to his side. Finally, at 2:30, on the wreck, Student 2 signals to Student 1 he has a problem. Good. He’s communicating. This is the first positive thing so far. However, sadly, both Student 1 and 2 have insufficient skill or focus to maintain their buoyancy. They’re both so busy ‘wafting’ that Student 1 knocks Student 2’s reg out of his mouth at 2:43. It’s not clear where Instructor and DM are at this point.

 

Between 2:50 and 3:00 things start to take a turn for the worse. Without looking at their computers which, ominously, neither seems to do – Student 2 either goes up (which seems more likely based on later events) or, alternatively, Student 1 begins going down. Either way, neither has the presence of mind to take the line and stop, think and breathe.

 

At 3:10 the Instructor appears in shot. He’s waving his finger at Student 2. This would seem to indicate that Student 2 has ascended and is close to group separation at best, rapid ascent at worst. The Instructor appears to gain control of Student 2 and by 3:33 Student 2 is on the deck of the wreck again and his breathing rate is restored to something more normal. The Instructor, to his credit, is at this point trying to get his group together, despite his students’ best efforts. At 3:50 he identifies the DM and Student 1 away from the site in the deeper water and tries to gather the divers in the same place to regain control. And, just when you think he’s finally, FINALLY, got things almost resembling a proper Deep Adventure Dive class, Student 2 begins to go up AGAIN! And, again at the same time, the DM turns her back on Student 1 who has lost control of his buoyancy in the deeper water behind her. At 4:12 the Instructor appears to make the decision to cut his losses and abort the dive. He signals Student 2 that the group will be going up.

 

4:24 and Student 1 grabs the DM’s alternate air source and is in active panic. I would assume that, due to excessive negative buoyancy, rapid breathing and dead air space combined, Student 1 has begin to feel overexerted and air-starved and jumped to the conclusion it’s a regulator problem. The DM and Instructor are trying to calm Student 1. Meanwhile Student 2 watches and continues to film while they begin the ascent.

 

The DM turns to Student 2 at 4:51 and, rather than instruct him to calm down and stay with her, she gives a shrug and a ‘What’s going on?’ signal. They begin an ascent, mid-water. Ascent rate unknown.

 

OK, so at this point there has been a whole catalogue of cock-ups. Some from the Instructor and DM, some from the Students. The group has become anxious and is having to abort. They are mid-water and away from the line. Options are running out.

 

At this point as an Instructor (if I was transported into his wetsuit) my initial duty of care is to ensure that Student 1, who is panicking, makes a safe ascent. Student 1 is not being rational and this is the priority – the danger point. I would then expect (and instruct) a good DM to take control of Student 2, who’s currently unattended but rational and (if possible) launch an SMB to alert any boat traffic that we’ll be ascending mid-water – possibly in boat traffic – and try to keep the whole group together.

 

5:30, we’re back on the surface. This, of course, means NO safety stops were made. No oxygen is provided but we’ll assume that the Instructor has assessed the whole group and asked about their well-being and any signs or symptoms of DCI and has O2 on standby.

 

The video ends with the rolling text that both students are ‘…soon going to be divemasters. But nothing you can learn from a text can prepare us for what took place that day!!. That’s where I disagree.

 

Everything that’s goes wrong here is discussed in all the training up to that point; whether that’s something as simple as maintain buoyancy and buddy contact. Or, alternatively, using an ascent/descent line for control and how to deal with vertigo. Both are studied within the Open Water training.

 

Or, from the perspective of a DM or Instructor, group control, assisting with student divers in training, control criteria and risk management are all studied within DM and Instructor training.

 

It’s easy, sat here with a cup of coffee watching the footage and with the benefit of hindsight, to be smart. The Instructor lost control in the opening seconds of the class and spent the rest of the dive chasing his tail. It snow-balled out of control from there. However, this is all stuff that has been presented in black in white earlier in their training and – had the training been followed – there are a several things that could and should have been done to prevent this even occurring in the first place:

 

  1. Pre-assess the student divers’ skill level. These two guys should not have been on a Deep Adventure Dive based on the evidence presented. Their skill level and general dive procedures were poor.
  2. Don’t allow students to take cameras on a training dive. Training dives are for training.
  3. Thoroughly brief the student divers on the dive plan and refresh them on the buddy system, which was disregarded here.
  4. Remind them about contingency procedures and what to do if there is a problem such as separation, ears, vertigo or disorientation.
  5. Thoroughly brief the DM (if Niki was a DM/DMT) that no student must be left unattended. Always be in a position to make contact and offer assistance. Don’t turn your back on the group unless necessary for minimal periods.
  6. Use the risk management tools at your disposal. In this case go up and down the shot line to maintain group control.
  7. Be clear with your students in the water. Give them clear signals and take control of the group.
  8. If unsure, abort the dive. Do it another day or at another site when they are ready.

 

None of the above is a personal criticism of the DM and Instructor in this video. I’m sure they’re nice people. And a large proportion of the blame for the cluster-f*ck you’ve just watched lies with the students – who seem to have abandoned the basic principles of recreational diving learned in training up to that point in search of their next qualification – or some good footage on their GoPro camera to post on Facebook or YouTube.

 

Professionals, help protect your students and yourself by briefing your DM to do their job. Put any risk management procedures in place that you can to help with diver safety. And brief your students to follow the plan. You can only do so much. But we have to do our best.

 

How do I feel about the footage having reviewed it again? Well, I hope that recreational divers or non-divers don’t view this as a ‘typical’ dive. Diving is a great sport. And, statistically, it’s very safe. Let’s keep it that way. Play it safe. Refresh before your next course, hone your skills and be ready to take the next step – don’t run before you can walk or you won’t be doing yourself or the group you dive with any favours.

Groundbreaking research at The Scuba Monkey’s top-secret labs (off the A3 near Horsham) has discovered that watching someone make a complete pig’s ear of a buddy check or giant stride entry is scientifically proven to be the funniest thing in scuba diving.

This new research overturns previous thoughts on the subject undertaken during the 1990’s that had indicated that seeing someone end up with a bird’s nest of line at 5m when trying to deploy an SMB and bobbing up and down like a yo-yo was the incident most likely to cause someone to laugh into their mouthpiece.

The Scuba Monkey’s research team spoke with leading industry figures who confirmed the findings:

Joseph McHelmut, an experienced Red Sea Instructor said “I watched Mike, our cocky young Divemaster, get all the way into the water before reminding him that he needed a weight belt”. Barely able to control a grin, even years after the incident, Joe added “Adding insult to injury, as he hit the water his legs were spread and the water slapped his crotch so hard that he let out a shriek like a little girl too. It made Mike look like a complete twat in front of everyone, and he actually shut the f*ck up and paid attention after that instead of concentrating on chatting up the female guests and parading around the dive deck semi-clothed.”

0205technique01

Annoying bloke about to roll into the water minus his mask….genius!

We then spoke to Melanie Smitherpants, an Instructor based in the UK. “One of my dafter students totally ignored my advice to look at the horizon when making their giant stride entry. She fell forward like Del-Boy falling through an open bar and belly-flopped with such a slap that it was like an Orca breaching”. Barely able to hide a grin Mel added “…it was so funny I had to turn away and bite my lip for about 3 minutes before rejoining the group. My mask was filling up with tears of laughter”

Bob Cobblenob, working up in the Farne Islands and St.Abbs, relayed his findings. “I once had a guest on my dive boat who was a complete cock. He was swaggering around the deck like he was Jacques Cousteau or something….he was the biggest pillock I’ve known to come from Northamptonshire, and that’s going some… Anyway, he considered himself above a quick buddy check as he was far too special for that”. Bob then paused before bursting into laughter “…then on the first dive of the week I noticed he was about to jump in with his dry-suit unzipped. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him and….oh boy, I laughed so much when I saw his face as he bobbed back to the surface that it made my balls ache. He had an expression like someone had just stuffed a pickled onion up his jacksy”.

Brad Saltycrack, an experienced Divemaster in Australia added “Back in the old days I used to think that seeing cocky, macho idiots who play rugby, work as Estate Agents and are called Piers freak-out if they had a little water in their mask was the funniest thing about diving. But I have to agree now that watching an overweight American Tourist faceplant the ocean so hard that they have the red outline of the mask frame on their face for a week after they get back home is f*cking hilarious”.