When Kim looked down to adjust her BC straps, a sudden movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She looked up to find that her instructor, Allison, who had been standing on the seawall right beside her, was suddenly gone. Kim looked to the water and saw that Allison had been swept off the wall. Before she even registered the fact, Kim's own feet gave way to a sudden push of water, and she found herself struggling in rough conditions. She quickly saw that Allison was unable to inflate her BC and was on the verge of drowning. Kim struggled over to her instructor and tried to keep her afloat, but her weight and the rough water were too much. Kim let go to get control of her own buoyancy and lost Allison in the heavy seas.
Allison was an experienced diving instructor in her mid-40s and in good health. She was diving with Kim and two other dive club members, a brother and sister who were also healthy, active divers.
Allison had agreed to supervise the three other divers on a shore dive adjacent to a slightly raised rock pathway that usually allowed dry access across the wet shoreline. The dive plan was simple: The divers would suit up completely, except for fins, on the shore and then walk carefully across the slippery sea wall. They would then put their fins on, check their gear and enter the water. Conditions were exceptionally rough when the dive group began traversing the causeway. The pull of the tide was strong and the water was high enough that the divers were almost immediately wading in ankle-deep water. The divers walked into deeper and deeper water as they progressed. At least one of them noted being very uneasy about the conditions as the instructor continued to lead them across the submerged causeway.
Kim was shocked when Allison's feet were swept from under her by the flow of water. Allison fell and slid into the water quickly. Then, before she had a chance to consider what to do next, Kim found herself being swept away as well. In fact, all of the divers in the group fell from the causeway without preparation. It quickly became apparent that Allison could not keep herself afloat, so Kim grabbed her, attempting to assist, but she was also struggling on her own. She soon realized that Allison had not turned on her own air supply and could not inflate her BC. She struggled to keep Allison's head above water while trying to turn on her tank. Finally, she was forced to let go of Allison in order to avoid pushing her head underwater. The divers were immediately separated by the rough water. The two other divers had managed to get their air supplies turned on, and although they were swept along the outrushing tide, they were safely afloat. Kim got her own buoyancy under control and then searched for Allison, but she never saw her instructor again.
Three of the divers in the group were quickly rescued by boat, and Allison was recovered a short while later. All four of the divers were transported to a local hospital where three of them were treated for minor injuries, but Allison never regained consciousness.
It is easy to lay blame here with the instructor, but we should start this analysis by noting that all three of the divers were certified, and each should have understood the number of rules that were being broken and stepped in to correct them. When the divers arrived at the site, at least part of the dive group realized that conditions were outside their comfort zone. This was the only reason anyone needed to reschedule the dives.
Beyond that, the divers recognized that they would have to enter the rough—albeit shallow—water in order to walk across the submerged causeway. Every certified diver is trained to complete an equipment check and a buddy check before entering the water. At least two of the divers, and probably all four of them, entered the water without first opening their tank valves. No one completed either a gear check or a buddy check before the entry. It is never permissible to enter the water until all of your gear is in place and prepped for the dive. (With the exception of your fins, which in some shore diving situations are best left in your hand until you reach deeper water.)
In a situation like this, where access to the dive site is at least somewhat hazardous, this failure was especially critical and, as the outcome of the accident shows, it proved to be fatal. An inquest into the fatality later showed that Allison's equipment was not properly maintained and it is likely that this lack of equipment maintenance made it difficult to open her tank valve, explaining Kim's failed efforts to do so. This dive was ill-conceived and improperly planned long before the divers ever left home.
Lessons for Life
and never, under any circumstances, dive with equipment that is not functioning properly.
even shallow water, without completing a check of all of your personal scuba equipment.
without completing a buddy check.
with your air turned off.
You never know when a simple task will lead you to unexpected circumstances.
Never let anyone convince you to dive outside your personal comfort zone or to violate safety rules.