Setting the Stage
Ed.'s note: The incidents described here are real. Names of locations and people have been changed or deleted.
Rachel was a careful and experienced underwater instructor who loved diving. Unfortunately, allergy and sinus conditions kept her from diving as often as she liked. Rachel worked in the film industry, and after a shoot was wrapped, several recreational divers on the crew suggested a fun dive from a friend's private boat.
Rachel checked her gear carefully the night before the dive and found no problems. She also felt fine, although her sinuses were always a concern. The next day the boat anchored over a wreck in about 70 feet of water. It was a cold and cloudy day, but calm.
Rachel told her diving friends that she would descend the anchor line very slowly and they agreed to keep her in sight.
As Rachel slowly descended, she felt slightly nauseated and the water seemed to be a good deal colder than usual, even though she wore a thick wetsuit. After 20 minutes of exploring the wreck, she felt extremely cold and realized her responses were slowing down. After signaling her buddies that she was ascending, Rachel started a slow, controlled ascent up the anchor line, followed by the other divers.
At about 20 feet, Rachel's BC suddenly inflated and she was put into an uncontrolled rapid ascent. One buddy grabbed for her fins, but missed. Meanwhile, Rachel looked up, kept an open airway and flared. There was no time to dump the air from her BC. She arrived on the surface, near the bow of the boat, still feeling sick and with some tingling developing as she swam to the stern of the boat. She climbed into the boat feeling cold and weak with more tingling in her face.
Her buddies surfaced shortly after she did and came immediately on board the boat. By this time, Rachel was lying on the deck and vomiting. Her buddy, an off-duty fireman, radioed the local EMS.
Rachel was transferred to a rescue boat and given complete support by the attending paramedics, including IV and oxygen. Next, she was transferred from the rescue boat to a sheriff's helicopter for the ride to the recompression chamber.
Rachel consented to treatment in the chamber and was pressurized on oxygen, first at 60 feet and later at 30 feet, with air breaks interspersed. She responded well to the treatment and came out after six hours, tired and hungry, but with no residual symptoms. She was transferred to a medical center for a checkup.
The chamber treatment, evacuation and medical bills totalled more than $12,000. Rachel did not have dive accident insurance, but did have insurance to cover the emergency evacuation. She submitted the bill for the chamber and other medical treatment to her HMO and waited to find out if the claim would be paid.
Lessons For Life
- ScubaLab's tests on out-of-control ascents with fully inflated BCs indicate that in less than 30 feet of water, it becomes extremely difficult to regain control, and at less than 20 feet or when response time is slowed by cold, it becomes almost impossible.
- Even though you may check your dive equipment on a regular basis, it still needs a dive technician's additional touch. The tech at a dive store can perform tests and make adjustments that you can't make.
- If you have any medical condition that may flare up and be a relative contraindication to diving, see a diving doctor who specializes in that aspect of medicine.
- If things are not going as planned during a dive, buddies should maintain closer contact in order to be able to provide assistance quickly.
- No matter what other medical insurance you have, carry accident insurance specifically for diving; it is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with sure and effective coverage.