Setting the Stage
Ed.'s note: The incidents described here are real. Names of locations and people have been changed or deleted.
A well-liked, well-educated, competent professional had dived actively for several years, primarily hunting for game. He was also a divemaster, known to be a risk-taker and an aggressive lobster diver who often bagged more bugs than anyone else on the boat.
He had more than one complete set of his own dive gear and had it serviced regularly. Just before lobster season started, he had his primary regulator serviced, and he updated the rest of his gear, as needed, at the local dive store. Over the next three months, he made several multi-day trips to offshore islands in the pursuit of lobster. On most trips, he maxed out on both dives and bugs. As is common with avid game takers, he dived alone.
On the last dive of the last day of the last boat dive trip of the year, he entered the water alone, intent to top both the other passengers and the crew by taking the most big bugs of the trip.
As part of the crew's dive briefing, they had pointed out that there were sea caves in the area and that the divers should not enter them.
When the diver had not returned from the dive in a timely manner, two crew members started a search in the area of the caves based on information from other divers who had returned to the boat. The first two caves they checked were short dead ends. The third cave, in approximately 30 feet of water, was clearly extensive, so one of the crew divers took a search line and entered the cave with the other crew diver tending the line from outside the cave.
About halfway into the cave (140 linear feet), in 38 feet of water, near a number of lobsters in total darkness and in very turbid water, the missing diver was found. He was unresponsive. The two crew members surfaced with the missing diver, signaled the boat and were hauled back to the boat with the current line. Immediate CPR and a Coast Guard evacuation were performed to no avail, and the diver was pronounced dead.
The Investigation and Legal Action
The local law enforcement agency took the diver's equipment to a local dive store, where the store owner performed an inspection and reported that the regulator's first stage high-pressure inlet had come apart, causing a sudden, major loss of air. A plaintiff's attorney used the report to bring a legal action on behalf of the family against the manufacturer of the regulator and the dive store that had last serviced the regulator.
The case was settled out of court, so no legal precedents were established, but some telling insights were revealed during the tests and research for this legal action:
- This diver had no training or equipment for cave diving.
Lessons for Life
- Only dive in caves if trained and equipped to do so.