Deep-sea diving is high-risk — have you ever wondered why it’s such a high paid job? Although it is exciting to explore new areas, deep sea diving can be dangerous, with hundreds of people estimated to die each year from things going wrong. Not only claustrophobic, divers are at risk of a range of medical conditions and even death.
Here, we’ll take a look at fatal and non-fatal deep-sea diving accidents, how they occurred, and important things to note to stay safe and survive. As well as following careful regulations like checking your diving equipment and piston rings are secure, it’s important to learn from past mistakes to make sure we can enjoy such a thrilling activity and stay safe as saturation divers.
Bushman’s Cave, South Africa
In 2004, diving friends Don Shirley and Dave Shaw went diving in Bushman’s Cave, South Africa, almost 1,000 feet underwater and one of the world’s deepest submerged freshwater caves. They came across the remains of Deon Dreyer who had died in a cave ten years prior, and as the body had never been recovered after several search teams and miniature submarine were sent to look for it, they decided to bring the body back. To put into perspective, more people have walked on the moon than have descended to such perilous depths.
After nine hours of decompression, the divers returned to the surface and undertook months planning to recover the body. Shaw set off first, following a precise plan, and 13 minutes later, Shirley followed him. Unfortunately, by the time Shirley had descended 50m, Shaw had already died after he struggled with the body and the body bag far below, causing him to lose his footing and his torch line attached to his dry suit to become tangled with his guide line. Shaw’s breathing became faster, causing a build-up of carbon dioxide, resulting in narcosis.
There are many medical conditions that can result from deep sea diving, and in this case carbon dioxide toxicity occurred — causing shortness of breath and sedation. It’s important to maintain a steady breathing rate and although it is easier said than done, avoid panicking and hyperventilating.
RAID, a scuba training agency, explained that common emergencies for cave diving is small equipment issues and reels tangling, the risk of which can be managed to an extent with proper training, remaining calm, and the emphasis of diving with a buddy. Caves are a unique environment, particularly being enclosed with no chance of ascending. Air supply is finite and natural light is limited, especially during sudden movement when sediment is stirred and blocks vision.
The Blue Hole, Egypt
In April 2000, 24-year-old Russian diver Yuri Lipski dived in one of the world’s most beautiful spots, the 394-foot-deep Blue Hole located near Egypt in the Red Sea. Lipski planned to get footage of the arch, a challenge to deep sea divers comparable of Kilimanjaro to hikers, which looks like an underwater cathedral.
Lipski ended up suffering from nitrogen narcosis due to descending too fast, likely due to his buoyancy device being too heavy, which prevented premature ascension. Lipski removed his regulator when delirious and passed away. Nitrogen can also induce feelings of delusion resulting in poor judgement as if you’ve been drinking — symptoms include physical and mental impairment, hallucinations, a sense of euphoria, and disorientation.
Since then, safety precautions have been introduced, forbidding unqualified divers from entering the Blue Hole at all. Lipski didn’t train in the cave before attempting it, so if you’re considering exploring a new area, make sure you seek training if it is available, and if it isn’t, don’t attempt it. There have been too many cases of deep-sea diving fatalities when divers have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones. Remember, even seasoned divers might not feel comfortable tackling certain areas. It isn’t a competition, so enjoy it for the fun that it can be.
North Sea, Scotland
Chris Lemons cheated death in 2012, after being lowered 300 feet under the surface in a diving bell to fix a pope on the seabed east of Aberdeenshire, in the North Sea. When repairing, he heard an alarm through his earpiece and tried to get into the diving bell quickly.
Unfortunately, due to computer failure, the ship began to move away, and his oxygen supply cut off. Lemons survived 300 feet under the surface, making six minutes of air lasting for 35 minutes. Luckily, after his colleagues’ extraordinary efforts to save him, the saturation diver was rescued and avoided brain damage.
Chris said: “I assumed it was the extreme cold of the water that slowed my functions down. But the gas we breathe has a high concentration of oxygen which saturated my tissues and cells to allow me to survive.”
Although unavoidable, it’s important to keep your wits about you and try to maintain your oxygen level if things like this occur rather than panic and using it up quickly.
Last year, Kim Martin was deep sea diving in Ireland to see the ruins of the Lusitania shipwreck, where the British ocean liner was sunk by German submarine in the First World War. After thirty years of diving, this was the last on his list of famous shipwrecks. His diving achievements and expertise were well-known — Martin had even won a medal of bravery from the Canadian government in 1996 after rescuing a fellow diver.
However, Martin’s buoyancy weights weren’t weighted appropriately for the dive, causing him to ascend too fast, and he was left paralysed from the chest down. In these unprecedented conditions, the pressure created by the heavy weight of water can have many effects on your body. Decompression sickness occurs if you ascend too fast, causing nitrogen bubbles to form in your body, causing damage to your nerves and tissue, or even death. When compression diving, you must spend a certain amount of time at different heights to allow the nitrogen to leave your body and reduce risk of injury or fatality.
Check, double check, and triple check your diving equipment. One of the most common problems for divers is overweighting, with many misunderstanding the reason for weighting. The added weight is to account for the increased buoyancy of the suit and buoyancy control device, not to prevent divers floating to the surface. As we descend, the water pressure causes the equipment to lose its buoyancy, so we add small amounts of air to our suits to balance out the system and make it neutral, adding more as we get deeper as the air continues to compress. And as we ascend, we need to let out some of the so it’s easier to ascend slowly and for the nitrogen to escape our bodies.
It’s important to remain alert when diving, and never do it alone. Stay safe and don’t push yourself diving in areas you aren’t comfortable.