Setting the Stage
Jean-Paul was in his mid-30s and had successfully completed an open-water scuba course. After making a number of open-water dives on his own, Jean-Paul enrolled in an advanced open-water course.
The purpose of one of the dives for this course was to practice buoyancy control and navigation. For this dive, Jean-Paul was buddied with Todd, a 15-year-old just out of his open-water course. They did not know each other and had never dived together before.
On the day of the dive, conditions were calmer than normal and visibility better than normal at the dive site. The dive was to be made from shore in cold, relatively shallow water that featured kelp beds.
Jean-Paul led the way, set the pace and told Todd how he thought the dive should be conducted. At first, the dive went as planned, and although neither diver was skilled at navigation or buoyancy control, they managed both skills adequately.
Todd was using his air rather quickly, so he signaled to Jean-Paul to surface. On the surface, Jean-Paul told Todd that they would submerge and share Jean-Paul's air, while they swam toward shore under the kelp canopy. They proceeded to do this until some confusion developed over the air sharing, and Todd gave the signal to surface. Todd surfaced using his own regulator and waited for Jean-Paul. When Jean-Paul didn't surface, Todd swam to shore and informed the course instructor.
A search was quickly put together that included experienced and trained rescue divers. With Jean-Paul's last known position unclear, the search took longer than it should have. Jean-Paul was eventually found on the bottom, unconscious, not breathing, with the regulator still in his mouth and very little air in his tank. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
A coroner's investigator downloaded dive data from Jean-Paul's dive computer and found that the data did not match Todd's version of events. A dive computer expert was called in to interpret the data. The computer showed that Jean-Paul exhibited poor depth control and a high breathing rate. It also showed that he made two rapid ascents and descents, that the computer's air alarm went off and his reserve air was used.
When Todd was questioned further by investigators, he admitted he was scared and confused during the first interview and the record presented by the computer was accurate. Later, in Todd's deposition for the ensuing legal actions, he said he wanted to exit on the surface, but Jean-Paul did not; that Jean-Paul was not responding appropriately to Todd's hand signals; that Jean-Paul insisted on sharing air and Todd deferred to him; and that they had difficulty sharing air. Also, in the final moments of air sharing, Todd got snagged in kelp; Jean-Paul refused to stop, ignored Todd and pulled the alternate regulator from Todd's mouth, confusing which second stage regulator was being used by whom; Todd got water in his mouth, finally switched to his own regulator, signaled Jean-Paul to surface and got no acknowledgement, then surfaced out of air and waited.
Lessons for Life
- Make dive plans and modifications to those plans taking into account the skills and comfort level of the diver who has the least experience.
- Do not allow yourself to be overruled by a strong-willed buddy. Act in your own best interests. Do only what you feel you are capable of doing.
- In a missing buddy situation, if at all possible, signal for help from the last known position of the buddy or mark that position to aid other divers in the search and rescue process.
- If your buddy does not acknowledge your hand signals or is otherwise unresponsive, end the dive and take your buddy with you to the surface, if at all possible.