Gustavo was a 20-year-old college student who took great pride in his athletic prowess. Never one to walk away from a challenge, he readily agreed when his friends suggested that they take up scuba diving. Unfortunately, Gustavo saw diving as a competitive sport.
Gustavo was not especially comfortable in the water, but he toughed it out to ensure that he showed no weakness in front of his friends. His confidence and skills grew, and he passed his open-water course and checkout dives without serious difficulty.
While on break in Florida, he once again followed his friends' suggestion and took an advanced open-water course. Gustavo and his friends enrolled and were scheduled for a dive to 100 feet. On an early Saturday morning, the divers boarded the boat for the short trip to a popular South Florida wreck.
The seas were smooth, and the sun was shining brightly. When they arrived at the site, the current, which was often strong, was running very mild. The visibility was so good that the shadow of the wreck could be seen from the surface. It was a perfect day to dive, and Gustavo and his friends quickly turned their attention to the competition of going deepest and staying longest.
The instructor gave a detailed briefing, stressing that the divers should monitor their gas supply closely and go no deeper than 100 feet. He cautioned the divers to notify him when they reached 2,000 psi and again at 1,500 psi. The dive plan mandated that everyone leave the bottom with at least 1,000 psi remaining in their tanks.
The divers entered the water and descended to 100 feet. Conditions proved to be ideal all the way to the bottom. The deck of the vessel lay at 100 feet and the sand at 125 feet. Because they were all limited to the deck of the vessel with the instructor, each of the divers had a maximum of 100 feet showing on their computers.
Never one to let rules interfere with competitive achievement, Gustavo had a plan. After completing the dive, the instructor led all of the divers back to the ascent line where they ascended to 15 feet for a safety stop. When the instructor's attention was diverted, Gustavo quickly dropped back down to the wreck. His intention was apparently to drop over the side, get 125 feet on his computer and therefore "beat" his three dive buddies. Unfortunately, Gustavo's air supply was inadequate for this goal.
Only moments passed before the instructor realized that Gustavo was missing. He terminated the safety stop early, sending the other divers to the boat. The instructor notified the captain of the problem and descended back to the wreck. The search for Gustavo was quickly successful thanks to the clear water. He was found face-down on the bottom, a few yards from the shipwreck. His regulator was out of his mouth, his mask was filled with water and his tank was completely empty. Suspended silt in the area indicated that he had attempted to ascend rapidly back to the surface. The instructor immediately brought Gustavo to the surface, and the boat crew promptly began CPR in an attempt to save his life. These attempts were unsuccessful, and he was declared dead upon arrival at a local medical center.
Gustavo died from a terminal inverse ratio of common sense to machismo. Based on the position of the body on the lee side of the shipwreck and considering the currents prevalent on the day of the dive, it appears as though Gustavo never began an ascent from the bottom after touching the sand. The instructor indicated that he would have had less than 1,000 psi at the start of the second descent, and for a new diver swimming hard at these depths, this would have been a very limited gas supply. It is likely that Gustavo ran out of gas while descending or immediately after reaching the bottom and that he failed to control his buoyancy during the descent. At this depth, without even neutral buoyancy, it would have been very difficult for Gustavo to make an emergency swimming ascent. He also failed to remove his weight belt when attempting to ascend, thereby further complicating his struggle for survival.
Attempts by Gustavo's estate to sue the dive shop and the instructor met with no success. In pretrial depositions, each of Gustavo's friends verified that the instructor had properly briefed and conducted the dive, but that Gustavo had purposely modified the plan, therefore taking his safety into his own hands. In fact, it was noted that the instructor put himself at substantial risk by descending back to the wreck with a limited gas supply in order to attempt a rescue.
Lessons for Life
- Plan your dive for safety and then stick to the plan.
- You pay a qualified instructor for expertise. When that instructor provides guidance for your safety, it is at best foolish and at worst deadly to disregard this advice.
- Descents below 80 feet should never begin without a full supply of breathing gas.
- Unless properly experienced, trained and certified, never dive alone.
- In the event that you have followed all of the rules and still find yourself in an unavoidable out-of-air situation, discard your weight belt and ascend while exhaling. Runaway ascents are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, but they are preferable to drowning.
- Diving is not a competitive sport, and regardless of your goals, common sense still needs to be a part of your dive plan.