First article is written by Howard Hall and can also be
found on his web (published with
Howard and Thurlow with High Def
system - ©Michele Hall
introduction of the ElectroLung during the late 1960s seemed to herald
a revolution within the sport diving industry. But after a few short
years and several deaths, this revolution came to a crashing halt. The
promise of silent, bubble-free diving was replaced by a consensus that
rebreathers promise only death and multi-million dollar lawsuits.
the grim history and the prospect of certain death guaranteed by many
friends and colleagues, I found the dream of silent diving almost
overwhelming. Finally, in the late 1980s, opportunity presented
itself. I received a contract to make a film about the Sea of Cortez.
The film provided the funds and the justification for pursuing
rebreather technology. So in the spring of 1989, Bob Cranston and I
traveled to Philadelphia to train on a pair of Biomarine 15.5
Biomarine 15.5 was a prototype rebreather designed to replace the US
Navy's Mark 15. Fortunately for Bob and I, Biomarine failed to acquire
the Navy contract and this failure left a couple dozen of these
closed-circuit, mixed-gas rebreathers drifting aimlessly in the
civilian community. Biomarine had two of these units at their
Philadelphia factory and was willing to loan them to us, assuming we
were willing to pay a considerable lease fee and, of course, sign a
waiver that detailed the various and likely ways we would almost
certainly die using the gear. A few months later, Bob and I donned our
leased rebreathers and made our first open water dive in the Sea of
Cortez. We were, at once, excited and terrified. We descended to just
over fifteen feet and made it back alive.
surviving the making of our Sea of Cortez film (Shadows in a Desert
Sea, WNET Nature), I acquired and highly modified my own Biomarine
15.5 rebreather. My underwater crew and I have been using rebreathers
extensively ever since. And today as I write this, floating on the
Undersea Hunter above a beautiful Fijian reef, I celebrated logging my
1,000th closed-circuit hour. That was the only event worth celebrating
today, however. During today's dive my trimix computer screen went
blank soon after beginning a descent to 270 feet where Bob and I
planned to use two underwater IMAX® systems to film Richard Pyle
collecting rare fish. Bob's camera jammed after running for only ten
seconds. My camera failed to run at all. Our reward for total
underwater cinematic failure was to spend three hours decompressing.
Our rebreathers, however, worked great! And rebreather reliability is
not something to be taken for granted.
1,000 hours of rebreather diving, the rather high frequency of
equipment malfunction has only been exceeded by the much higher
frequency of stupid diver mistakes. The editors of Oceans Illustrated
believe this magazine's readers may benefit from a chronicle of these
dangerous blunders, despite the humiliation such recounting may cause
members of my crew and me. My hesitation at humiliating myself by
admitting numerous stupid, life-threatening errors while diving
closed-circuit is, however, well off-set by the pleasure I take in
recounting the stupid mistakes my friends have made.
Always assume your rebreather is going to malfunction at any
assuming that your rebreather is going to malfunction, is a life
extending mind-set. The two rebreathers that I leased for my Sea of
Cortez film were only 50% reliable. That is to say that the unit Bob
used seemed to work just fine most of the time and the one I used
almost never worked properly. Since I was paying the lease fees, this
seemed completely unfair to me. But Bob never seemed inclined to trade
units with me. During our second open water dive (the first having
been the intrepid descent to fifteen feet) my rebreather showed an
alarm light just after we reached the bottom in sixty feet of water.
Seeing the alarm light, I suddenly felt my worst fears had come true.
In a moment I was sure to die of oxygen toxicity! I stopped on the top
of a rock, grabbed my open circuit bailout regulator (which at the
time was attached to a 15 cf tank that hung from my BC harness) and
hoped I could get the regulator clear before the inevitable
convulsion. The seizure didn't come. After checking my secondary
display (which shows the oxygen pressure readings on each of three
oxygen sensors), I realized that death was not so imminent.
things actually happen fast when using a rebreather. I had plenty of
time to realize that my on-board computer (which controls the
rebreather's gas mixtures) had failed and that I would have to add
oxygen manually. In fact, I would have had ten minutes or more to sort
the problem out even after the rebreather had quite working. Checking
my instruments had easily averted a problem.
rebreather I used in the Sea of Cortez helped train me to regularly
check my instruments. The rebreather encouraged regular instrument
checks by failing to function properly on 80% of my dives. An argument
can be made for owning a rebreather that almost never works right,
since frequent failures encourage good instrument monitoring habits
and familiarity with emergency procedures. Personally, however, I
wouldn't go so far as purposely seeking out unreliable rebreather
designs. However, there is inherent danger in rebreathers that work
flawlessly almost all the time. Richard Pyle, an ichthyologist famous
for discovering new fish species while diving his Cis-Lunar rebreather
to over 400 feet, calls this the "Richard Pyle rebreather paradox."
The paradox states that, while everyone desires a rebreather that is
reliable, reliability begets complacency.
Check your instruments
importance of frequent rebreather instrument checks cannot be over
emphasized. Since Bob Cranston's rebreather worked pretty well in the
Sea of Cortez, he developed less disciplined instrument checking
skills than I did. A flawlessly working rebreather is almost as
dangerous as a completely unreliable unit since reliability encourages
instrument complacency. Bob discovered the wisdom of this during a
dive in Grand Cayman.
filming yellow-head jawfish in fifty feet of water below the boat
early one morning. Bob had not had his second cup of coffee. After
about fifteen minutes lying quietly on the bottom, Bob was suddenly
stricken with dizziness and tunnel vision. Had he failed to act
immediately, he would have been unconscious in less than six seconds.
Bob's self- training saved him. In the event of dizziness, one should
assume low oxygen and inject gas immediately, any gas. In fact, it is
wise to inject both diluent and oxygen simultaneously since six
seconds is seldom enough time to do more than one thing. If Bob's
oxygen tank had not been turned on, attempting to inject oxygen would
have failed to solve the problem. Bob injected gas then, for the first
time that morning, he checked his primary display. The lights were
out. The problem was immediately apparent; he had failed to turn on
turned on his rebreather and continued to assist me as I filmed the
jawfish. Not wanting to admit to suffering from almost fatal
stupidity, he didn't tell me he'd had a problem for over two years.
every closed-circuit diver I know has failed to turn on his rebreather
or oxygen tank at least once. In the last two weeks while filming here
in Fiji, both Richard Pyle and Mark Thurlow have admitted to this
Be aware of the consequences of high oxygen
partial pressures. But fear, with all your heart, the consequences of
low oxygen levels
wanting to admit such stupidity, Bob told me of his near black-out
while in Grand Cayman two years after the incident, and only after he
heard me relate my low-oxygen story to a group of aspiring rebreather
divers. Unlike Bob, who was too dumb to turn his rig on in the
morning, I had turned mine off on purpose. I was using an IMAX® camera
to film kelp at an island near San Diego, California. I wanted to do a
shot looking up the kelp plant as I swam the camera up to just beneath
the kelp canopy. I didn't want any bubbles in the shot. So to minimize
bubbles, I exhaled most of the gas out of my counterlung and turned my
rebreather off so it wouldn't inject more gas (even if that gas was
rather important). I figured there was plenty of oxygen left to keep
me alive during that one short shot. I was wrong. And yes, I admit the
idea was completely stupid.
As I swam
just beneath the kelp canopy and only about two feet below the
surface, with the camera running, I suddenly saw stars, felt dizzy,
and then was plunged into a dark visual tunnel that was narrowing at
alarming speed. I checked my oxygen level. It read .06 ppO2. Not
enough to support life! I barely had time to lift my head above the
surface and take a breath.
Howard and Thurlow at 340 feet - ©Bob Cranston
instruments at the onset of hypoxia was dumb. A hypoxic diver seldom
has time to do more than one thing. I should have immediately lifted
my head or injected gas.
unfamiliar with rebreathers often fear them because they may supply
too much oxygen and cause oxygen toxicity and convulsions, followed by
drowning. While this is certainly possible, oxygen convulsions are not
a major danger when diving rebreathers. Most divers use their
rebreathers set at 1.3 or 1.4 pp02. Oxygen convulsions become possible
at 1.6. However, you would have to be extremely unlucky to get a
convulsion while diving a malfunctioning rebreather at 1.6 for a few
minutes. In fact, most divers will get lucky and not be struck with
oxygen toxicity even at levels as high as 2.0 or even 3.0. Even the
most complacent dullard is likely to check his instruments before high
02 causes central nervous system toxicity.
months ago I was descending past 200 feet in the La Jolla submarine
canyon with Mark Thurlow. Suddenly I turned and he was gone. I looked
up and saw Mark ascending rapidly while blowing gas out through his
nose. A moment later he resumed his descent. When I asked Mark about
it later, he sheepishly admitted that he had accidentally injected
oxygen during his descent, rather than diluent. He noticed he had a
problem when he checked his oxygen readings and found the needle
pegged off the oxygen pressure scale. High oxygen levels do not
necessarily result in dire consequences.
oxygen levels, however, should be feared absolutely. Low oxygen levels
can creep up on a diver quickly and are more likely to happen near or
at the surface than at depth. Hypoxia is the cause of most rebreather
Cranston began relating dumb rebreather mistakes, he seemed unable to
stop. He once jumped in and began a dive with all of his electrical
cables disconnected (the cables that connect the rebreather computer
to the mechanics of the system). But a quick check of his instruments
easily identified a problem, and he had no trouble returning to the
boat while injecting gases manually.
jumped in with the cover of his rebreather unsecured and, at the same
time, the cover of his CO2 scrubber unlatched. He didn't know he had a
problem until the end of his dive when, as he ascended with our
underwater IMAX® system, his cover popped off followed by the lid to
his scrubber. Essentially, his rebreather completely disassembled
underwater. Bob might not have mentioned this accident except that
most of his buddies were watching him at the time, and he could think
of no way to disguise his error.
underestimate your capacity for doing something really stupid
advise to an aspiring rebreather diver is to never underestimate your
capacity for doing something really stupid. Although Bob's mistakes
seem dumb (and certainly were), they are typical experiences for most
rebreather divers. I admit to making an equal number of blunders.
Actually, I make a few dumb mistakes on every trip. Those that know me
can easily understand my predisposition for error. Smarter divers
would seem less likely to screw up.
Pyle is a smart guy, most of the time. But, like Bob, he too has had
problems with flooding his counterlung. He once jumped overboard with
his breathing hoses disconnected. This mistake immediately resulted in
a mouthful of water and flooded rebreather. Richard went to the
surface, adjusted his full-face mask, and jumped back in assuming his
full-face mask had leaked. Since his hoses were still disconnected,
his rebreather flooded again.
course, making that kind of mistake near the surface seems far less
frightening than having a complete failure 300 feet below the surface.
But Richard has done that too. Richard told me that he once forgot to
insert the drain plug in his rebreather prior to a deep dive. When he
looked under a rock at 300 feet, turning his rebreather upside down,
all the gas flowed out the hole and his counterlung immediately filled
with water. Richard's next breath was entirely saline. Fortunately,
Richard always carries plenty of bailout gas. He switched to
open-circuit, one of his buddies noticed the open orifice and
reinserted the plug. Richard then completed his dive.
Carry sufficient open-circuit bailout, and be prepared to use it
to open-circuit is the last resort when things go wrong on a
rebreather. Most problems can be solved by monitoring instruments and
adding gases manually. But when everything melts down you need enough
open circuit gas to get you to the surface. In over just over 1,000
hours of rebreather diving, I've been forced to switch to open circuit
less than a half dozen times. Twice I had oxygen o-rings blow out
leaving the rig with no oxygen supply. In both cases, I had plenty of
oxygen in the counterlung for ten minutes or more on the bottom before
switching to open circuit and ascending. In other instances, I lost
of the counterlung to hold breathable gas is called "losing the loop."
This has happened to me several times due to perforated breathing
hoses or torn mouthpieces. It doesn't take much of a hole before the
loop becomes unbreathable.
diving at Cocos Island, I developed a tear in my mouthpiece. The hole
was small, but the small amount of salt water that entered the loop
reacted chemically with the carbon dioxide scrubber materials. The
foam rubber water-absorbers inside my counterlung melted, and the gas
became very unpleasant to breath. Back on the surface, I fixed the
torn mouthpiece by installing a new one. I should have secured the new
mouthpiece with a mouthpiece tie. Oops!
into my next dive I turned my head to get Bob's attention and the
mouthpiece popped off. Bob and Mark thought I looked pretty stupid
with the mouthpiece sticking out of my mouth and the hoses floating
high above my head. Of course, the counterlung immediately flooded. I
switched to open-circuit.
Pushing the envelope
our current film production, Coral Reef Adventure, my crew and I have
logged more than twenty deep trimix dives, many of which were well
below 300 feet. Our purpose for making these dives was to film, in the
IMAX® format, Richard Pyle capturing undescribed fish species on the
deep reef. On some of these dives we descended to below 300 feet with
two underwater IMAX® cameras. Planning this film sequence seemed like
a good idea at the time.
characteristic of closed-circuit mixed-gas rebreathers that make them
seductive is their ability to support dives to over 500 feet and
theoretically to over 1500 feet. Unfortunately, the normal tendency of
divers like myself to lapse into casual stupidity is not so benignly
tolerated on deep trimix dives.
rebreather dives require multiple gas switches, computer manipulation,
huge amounts of bailout gas of various mixtures, and hours of
decompression. The degree of complication provides an enormous
increase in the number of ways a diver can screw up.
course, I take trimix dives very seriously. Unfortunately, that hasn't
prevented me from making serious mistakes. My most serious error was
forgetting to make a gas switch on a dive to below 350 feet. The
result was a visit to the Fiji Recompression Facility and hours of
weeks that followed, I decided that forgetting to make the gas switch
was understandable, considering the complexity of the dive and the
demands on my attention when attempting to film at that depth with a
300-pound camera system. To remember the various gas switches and
computer adjustments, I needed a checklist. This is the solution
pilots have discovered for minimizing embarrassments such as finding
oneself stuck at the end of the runway after skidding to a halt with
the landing gear up.
the trimix dives that followed my bends incident, my crew and I have
found the checklist invaluable. Now, if only I can remember to look at
seems inevitable that rebreathers will become increasingly commonplace
with sport divers around the world. Certainly there will be accidents
as, through trial and error, divers develop the protocols for using
these complicated machines. But for those divers who are willing to
accept the risks and train themselves accordingly, rebreathers will
open a new world of opportunity for underwater exploration.
Story #2 sent by inspiration diver:
During A Normoxic training session, divers where using there oxygen
bottles for Trimix because they did not have special Trimix diluent
cylinders. The bottles were marked and provided with good warning signs and
stickers. The training went well and no problems occurred. After the
training the bottles were stored and refilled for a new dive. This time the
bottle was filled with 100% oxygen and put into the Inspiration rebreather.
Strange was that calibration would not succeed because the handset kept
calling 'Low Oxygen'. It was not understood and a second and third
calibration did not solve the case. After analyzing the oxygen bottle it was
found to have only 60 % of oxygen. Cause: The bottle was not emptied after
being used for normoxic / trimix filling. Lesson: Do not use oxygen
cylinders for any other gas!
Story #3 published with permission
of Mr. B. Lipman http://www.barrylipman.com
A Cautionary Tale
of Caustic Cocktails and Other Considerations
photographs ©2001, Barry Lipman, all rights reserved.
I'd been diving a
rebreather for about a year and a half and completed ninety-four dives
on it before I'd ever experienced a problem. After diving the frigid
North Atlantic off the coast of New England, the California kelp
forests of Catalina Island, and the wild and unpredictable waters of
the Galapagos Islands, a week of diving the warm waters of Curacao
looked like it would be a walk in the park.
experiences diving with the rebreather in warm-water lived up to all
my expectations. It was pure pleasure not to deal with a dry-suit and
gloves and all the weight and gear up time entailed in diving cold
water. On the seventh of my eight days on Curacao, I planned a
leisurely morning dive to photograph the guide rope that led divers to
and from the house reef at Habitat Curacao. The rope runs from the end
of the dock, across the sand, and down the wall to a depth of about
one-hundred and ten feet, while the wall plunges down at least another
fifty feet beyond that. After taking a few photographs looking up the
wall and showing the rope, I had run up a little bit of a
decompression obligation and decided it was time to head for shallower
waters. I spent a few minutes in the sixty-foot range, and then spent
about seven minutes in the forty foot range. I had just started up to
the twenty-to-thirty-foot zone when, without any warning, my
rebreather attempted to deliver a lungful of what tasted like Liquid
Draino - the dreaded caustic cocktail.
I swallowed a
small amount of the caustic liquid, but before I ever had a conscious
clue as to what was happening I found myself choking and coughing
through my bailout regulator, which I fortunately had been wearing
necklace style on a loop of surgical tubing such that it was always no
more than a few inches away from my mouth. In the act of bailing out I
dropped both my cameras and became positively buoyant, so I quickly
kicked down to the nearest coral head and grabbed on so I didn't float
to the surface. I dumped some air from my BC, reached up and grabbed
the rebreather hose, and shut it off.
I stayed there for
a few moments, holding onto the coral head, assessing the situation.
My throat felt as though some serious damage had been done - burning
and throbbing from the effects of the caustic cocktail. I found myself
hyperventilating as a result of the coughing and choking, so I
deliberately forced myself to exhale completely and inhale slowly
several conscious times in good open-circuit SCUBA style. I regained
my composure, reassured by the simple fact that I was still breathing.
Things could have been worse! I checked my computers and saw I still
had a four minute obligatory decompression stop at ten feet with a
ceiling of 5 feet, not much under ordinary circumstances, but given my
extreme discomfort from what I assumed was serious throat damage, it
seemed a very long time to me. I grabbed my cameras and finned towards
shallower waters, paid off the decompression debt, and headed for the
After climbing out
of the water, I slipped out of my gear and gargled with fresh water to
alleviate the pain in my throat. I soon realized the damage was
nowhere near as bad as I had thought, so I cleaned up my cameras with
fresh water and headed off to a nearby restaurant for a soothing bowl
of soup. Replaying the dive in my head, I realized I had tasted a
little bit of saltwater in the mouthpiece a few times and I figured
this was the clue that should have led me to abort the dive and avert
the problem. Although this proved not entirely true, it would make
good practice to abort any dive upon finding even a small amount of
seawater in the breathing tubes.
After lunch I took
a good look at the rebreather to determine he cause of the problem.
Upon inspection, I found a few inches of the gasket that seals the lid
on the scrubber canister to be out of place, and I assumed this was
where the water had entered the system. I cleaned out the canister and
the breathing bags, charged up the canister with fresh scrubber, and
reassembled the unit. Soon I was in the water again, diving with no
problems. I did two dives that afternoon, both uneventful.
The next morning,
I did another uneventful dive. It was during my second dive of the
morning and the very last dive of the trip, at a depth of about
forty-five feet, that I received another caustic cocktail - this time
without any warning. There was not a single taste of saltwater right
up until I got a giant mouthful. This time I swallowed none of the
caustic liquid, and I once again had my bailout regulator in place
almost before I realized it. I quickly regained composure and finished
the dive on my bailout regulator, making it back to the boat without
any more problems.
home, I assembled the rebreather without the housing, submerged it in
a bathtub to look for leaks, and found a small tear in the side of the
expiration bag. That was the problem all along. The scrubber canister
gasket misalignment was a red herring, possibly contributing to the
problem, but not by any means the sole, or even the major cause. I
reassembled the unit with my brand new backup breathing bags, tested
it in the tub, and loaded it into the car for some cold-water New
It was a typical
day on the North Atlantic. We reached the dive site and moored in seas
averaging about two to four feet. I geared up and leapt off the stern
into water about thirty-eight degrees cold with visibility no more
than three or four feet. As I descended, I checked my computers. I saw
I was breathing far too rich a mix. I had filled my tanks with EAN36
and was breathing about 36% O2, well above what would be expected
running it through the 60% nozzle as I do. I heard more exhaust gas
than usual on every exhale. My air-time-remaining gauge showed I was
consuming far more gas than normal. Something was wrong.
At about seventy
feet down the ascent line, with the above mentioned anomalies giving
me the idea that something was wrong, I turned the dive. I had
ascended to about thirty-five feet when I breathed in a mouthful of
mildly caustic seawater. I immediately spat it out along with the
rebreather mouthpiece and slipped my bailout into my mouth. I leaned
back to see the rebreather hose floating above my head and out of
reach. By leaning back a little farther, I was able to reach up and
grab it no problem, pull it down, shut the valve, and continue my
ascent. I handed up my camera to the boat's captain and climbed up the
Upon opening up
the rebreather's backpack, I saw that the expiration bag had become
disconnected from the scrubber canister. This explained the excess
exhaust bubbles as well as the (mildly) caustic cocktail. But why, or
how, did the bag become disconnected? I decided the only possible
culprit was the round grip on the plug that stopped up the hole in the
inspiration bag meant for the Draeger oxygen gauge. I don't use it; I
use the Aladdin system that attaches to the bottom of the inspiration
hose on the outside of the backpack. I figured my breathing had
allowed the plug to somehow depress the release on the exhalation bag.
One might suspect
I had not connected the fitting properly in the first place, but that
is not likely. I always make sure I hear the "click" of the connector
locking into place. If I don't hear it, I take it apart and do it
again until I do. Then, to be certain it is tight, I place a finger on
either side of the fitting and try to pop it open. If it resists a
good push, then it passes the test. Of course, I then perform the
positive and negative pressure tests. I do all of the above every time
without fail. I take no shortcuts - ever.
The next day I
called Draeger and asked if they knew anything about this problem. I
was told they suspected it had happened once a couple of years ago to
someone diving in a swimming pool. I discussed eliminating the problem
by rotating the fitting on the expiration bag so its release faced
away from the plug. They felt this would be a good idea. I asked why
they would manufacture the bag with the fittings oriented in such a
way as to allow such a potentially disastrous problem. I was told that
lowly paid workers assembled the parts without regard to the
orientation; the final position of the fitting is random.
I had already
tried to loosen the fitting and found it too tight to budge. It was
suggested I run it under hot water first, which I tried to no avail. I
resorted to loosely clamping the outside of the bag's fitting in a
vice. The eccentric shape of the fitting stopped it from rotating
against the vice jaws. Having removed the overpressure relief valve, I
was able to work through the hole and to use a common slip-joint
pliers to turn the inside of the fitting by placing the pliers' jaws
against the two small nubs on the fitting's inside collar. Without
gripping anything with the pliers, I pressed down and turned against
the nubs and the fitting loosened to where it was easy to undo it by
hand. I rotated it to about one-hundred and eighty degrees away from
its original position and tightened it up only as far as I could by
In bailout training, do not train the students to close the valve on
the rebreather mouthpiece before switching to the bailout regulator.
Teach the students to secure the bailout first and shut the rebreather
valve down only after safely breathing on the bailout. It is far
better to risk getting a little water into the rebreather than to
delay getting a working gas supply to the diver in distress! Flood the
rebreather, or flood one's lungs - you choose!
In my experience,
the amount of water that gets in through the mouthpiece is not a
significant factor compared to the water that has already got in and
made it necessary to switch to the bailout. In none of my three
caustic cocktail experiences did enough water get into the breathing
tubes to damage my oxygen transmitter, and that was my only real
concern regarding water in the system.
to minimize the chances of any water getting into the rebreather,
immediately after the student ditches the rebreather mouthpiece and
grabs the bailout the instructor can grab the rebreather mouthpiece,
shut the valve down for the student, and then release it to float up
and out of reach. After the student is stabilized and breathing on the
bailout regulator, the rebreather mouthpiece can then be retrieved and
the valve can be manipulated as though it were being closed. This way,
the student will train to secure the bailout first, then reach for and
secure the malfunctioning rebreather mouthpiece. This is simply a
matter of priorities. Secure one's breathing gas first, then try to
save some malfunctioning equipment from possible further damage.
Remember: in an emergency most of us will perform as we have
practiced, so practice as though the drill were for real!
fitting: Check the position of the release on the expiration bag to
scrubber canister fitting and be sure it does not face the oxygen
gauge fitting on the inspiration bag when assembled properly in the
backpack. If it does, it can be rotated as described above.
Fittings: When connecting the fittings, always make sure to hear the
"click" of the connector locking into place. If it is not audible,
take it apart and do it again until it is. Then, to be certain it is
tight, place a finger on either side of the fitting and try to pop it
open. If it resists a good push, then it passes the test. Of course,
always perform the positive and negative pressure tests after each
reassembly. Do all of the above every time without fail. Take no
Position: The bailout regulator mouthpiece should be worn on a
necklace made of surgical tubing such that it hangs no more than a few
inches below the divers chin. This allows it to be popped into the
mouth in one quick motion with no need to look for it or detach it in
an emergency. If one receives a caustic cocktail at depth, the
resulting coughing and choking could easily cause respiration of
seawater and subsequent hyperventilation, panic, and even drowning if
the bailout regulator is not put into immediate use. Reaching down,
finding it, releasing it from its attachment, and bringing it up to
the mouth take much more time than necessary or desirable. The
necklace solves this allowing one smooth motion to grab and use it
should the need arise.
Abort Dive Upon
Tasting Seawater: The presence of seawater in the breathing tubes
should be taken as an indication that there is a leak of some kind in
the system. Ascent should be started immediately and the rebreather
should be checked carefully for the source of the leak. Seawater
should never be found mingling with the breathing gas supply.
however, may be found circulating in the breathing tubes. It is a
normal result of the condensation of the diver's exhaled breath's
moisture. One can actually drink this liquid safely while diving, and
it can be quite pleasant. At the slightest hint that the water is not
sweet - salt or caustic in taste - the dive should be aborted.
Regulator: In addition to the Dräger
mouthpiece and the bailout regulator, an additional open-circuit
second stage for use by a distressed diver should be carried, possibly
secured by surgical tubing to the side of the rebreather within reach
of the rebreather diver and in plain sight of any other diver that may
be in need. When assisting another diver, the rebreather diver needs
to be able to switch to bailout without resorting to buddy-breathing
off a shared reg. The rebreather diver should show this to any divers
who will be diving at the same time and could possibly need to use it.
Draeger Atlantis rebreather has been modified. I have removed the
twenty-seven cubic foot tank it comes with and added twin,
manifolded, thirty cubic foot tanks with isolation valves. I run
regulator on one tank and conventional open-circuit SCUBA on the
other. I usually dive with a small air bailout bottle in addition.
In no way does any of this affect the internal integrity of the
breathing bags. I am certain the modification has not increased
the likelihood of getting a caustic cocktail or a leak of any
kind. I have done more than a hundred dives using this exact
configuration and I only had trouble on dives ninety-five,
ninety-eight, and ninety-nine. I believe the modification of the
breathing gas supply has enhanced the safety and practicality of
the unit by increasing the gas supply available to both the
rebreather and the bailout system.
is published with most appreciated permission of Mr. B. Lipman. I
want to thank him for this permission. You can see more of his
wonderful pictures and adventures on his homepage
Story #4 Great Big Stuff Ups I Have Made
Published with permission of Mr. Trevor Jackson
By Trevor Jackson - Esperance Star
When I first started using my CCR, a friend of mine
handed me a ream of paper. On the front cover it read……..An
to Rebreather Diving by Richard Pyle. It was one of the best things my
friend ever did for me, as it outlined many of the near death experiences
that Pyle had been through whilst he learnt to use his machine properly.
Despite vast amounts of diving experience, even the very finest divers can
come unstuck, most get to live through there experiences, some, regrettably,
don’t. So at the risk of copping a hiding from some members of the
fraternity, I present to you my own version of Pyles invaluable document. By
the time you’ve finished reading it, you may think I’m an idiot who should
never get in the water again, and if you’re lucky, you may learn something
that one day might mean the difference between making the surface, or not. I
am actually going to talk about only 2 stuff ups, and in no particular order
either, both incidents should have or could have resulted in me floating
face up in the water with a ghostly look on my face, but thankfully, by
virtue of luck [in one case] and good management [in the other] I’m still
here…….so here goes my reputation………
About a year ago I was on a mission. I had a big dive planned and we were
going to be using techniques and gear configurations that were well outside
the norm. The equipment we would take was complicated and immense, we would
be operating in near to total darkness and one slip up would be
catastrophic. I had to train myself, I had to go back to basics and learn
instinctively where everything was, what it did and how to use it in the
dark. I decided to put myself through a self regulated dive course, from
start to finish, everything I had ever learnt would be relearnt, again and
again. Everything I had ever done would be re-done. Every bad reaction would
be recorded and remedied, every time I made a mistake I gave myself an
uppercut till there were no more mistakes. Everything that could go wrong I
made go wrong and then made myself fix, it was a tough few months, but
sometimes we’re our own best teachers [or worst enemies]. Towards the end of
this ‘training’ I decided to do a night dive on a wreck that I was quite
familiar with. I'd go in and practice swimming around without lights, laying
lines, squeezing through gaps, practice gas switches and generally give
myself a rough time of it.
It was a fairly calm sort of night, I anchored the Esperance Star above a
wreck called the Etmor at Curtin Reef near Brisbane, put my gear on and
waddled out to the back deck to jump straight in off the duckboard. I was
facing east as I hit the water. Without knowing it, I rotated through 180
degrees during the descent, so when I hit the bottom, instead of facing east
I was facing west. I could see the wreck through the dim water and swam over
to it, making a right turn as I approached the hull. Because of the
rotational descent, I was now actually heading to the northern end of the
wreck, towards the stern, whilst the whole time thinking I was heading south
towards the bow. I skipped up onto the deck and found the first hole I
could, only turning on my lights as I actually entered the hull. Once inside
I made a left turn, which I of course assumed would head me north into the
familiar rooms of the Etmor. Instead, after swimming about 30 meters into
the near black corridors, I came to a dead end where there shouldn’t have
been one [or so I thought]. I sat there and pondered what had transpired for
a minute or two and slowly figured out what must have gone wrong. No worries
I thought. Ill just back track and find the exit, all was cool.
Murphy, my favorite Irishman, was about to come a knocking. Murphy was about
to start laying down some of his law. I remember thinking, ‘well Ill be
rooted if the light goes out’. Murph must have heard me and intervened,
making it so. My primary light failed completely, but like most proficient
tech heads, I carried a spare. In fact a brand new spare which had never
been in the water, a brand new spare which had never been tested, because if
it had been, I would have known that it knew my Irish friend as well, and it
liked him better than me. Both lights failed. I was 24 meters down, lost
inside a wreck in the middle of the night and with no real idea of the way
out. To add insult to embarrassment, the crew of the boat was now so used to
my long duration night dives that they probably wouldn’t start to worry for
at least 2 hours.
At this point it would probably be stating the obvious that now was not the
time to panic! I had a completely full Closed Circuit Rebreather, two full
125cft stage bottles, three reels and about 8 hours to get myself out before
I ran out of gas. I sat on the inner decks of the Etmor and tried to nut out
a solution. Time was on my side, if I just sat there and waited, I guess
someone would have eventually come down, but there was no guarantee that
they would find me, and night time penetrations were not normal practice. I
had to get out myself. I pulled out my primary reel and attached the line to
the nearest strong point, feeling around in the dark. I found a wall and ran
along it, spooling off line as I went. A dead-end. I felt along the dead end
and kept reeling out line the whole time; I came to another stop. ‘This
isn’t going to work’, I thought, ‘All I’m doing here is creating a great big
spiders web for myself and I am the Fly’. I had to figure out which wall ran
north-south, and which ran east-west. The Etmor lies north-south, but I was
so completely disorientated that on more than one occasion I had to feel for
the direction of my exhaled bubbles to check if I was upright.
I came to one of the dead ends and pulled off a fin. Using it as a measuring
tape, I crawled along the wall, tying a knot in the line every fin length.
When I got the next dead end I found the start of the wall and repeated the
process. All this took up precious time and gas but the end result was that
I now knew that one wall was 34 ‘knots’ long and one was 18’knots’ long. The
34 ‘knot ‘ wall was the north-south wall. I knew that because I had seen
plans of the Etmor and remembered it had a long room in its stern, running
lengthways. All I had to do now was figure out which end was the end I had
come in on, and then concentrate on finding the way out once I had done
that. I remembered as I entered that I had swum through some cross bracing,
steel girders that had formed an ‘X’ from the floor to the ceiling. I swam
to one end of the long wall, swam out a few meters along the short wall,
found a tie off point and did 5’ knot ‘ arcs out from that point. Nothing. I
went a few meters more along the short wall and tried again, repeating this
twice more, finding no cross bracing. I was at the wrong end, but at least I
knew that at the other end I would find the way out.
I swam back along the long wall and started to search for a way out once I
reached the end. I actually headbutted one of the cross braces while I
looked. I remember swearing but I was also quite chuffed at this point
because the exit was only minutes away, and the illuminated handsets of my
rebreathers computer told me all was well. I stared upward straining to see
some light. There was nothing, then faintly off to the left I could see
something, not a light source, more like the texture of a rough surface,
barnacles, I swam up to them and found an entrance. The bright spotlights on
the rear deck of the Esperance Star were my salvation; they ‘just’
penetrated to the bottom, just enough light.
As I stepped onto the duckboard after nearly 2 hours inside the Etmor, the
cook came up and said,’ I saved you some dinner’. It was good to be aboard,
I looked around and saw that the troops were all happy watching a DVD and
eating desert. I, of course, never said a word.
As I lay in my bunk that night I reflected on what had happened. I was
fairly happy. I realized that whilst I had done plenty wrong, I had also
done plenty right. I had managed a shit situation by thinking my way through
it and by not panicking. I gave myself an uppercut, and then thought back to
a few months earlier when I hadn’t been thinking too well, on a dive that
should have been my last, a dive that made me think seriously about giving
the whole thing away.
The President Coolidge, one of my favorite spots. Deep, historic, beautiful.
It was my fourth trip to the wreck; we knew her well and had come equipped
to do some serious deep shit. Well almost equipped, there was a bit of a
hitch there. My buddy Big Max and I had sent some of our gear over on a ship
a few weeks prior to our arrival. We were assured that it would be on the
wharf when we arrived but those assurances proved unrealistic. Our Helium
filled stage bottles and Max’s rebreather bottles were not there, it would
take a few more days. One thing that has sent more than a few divers to
there peril is diving with unfamiliar gear, another is impatience, I was to
be guilty of both, and lucky to get away with it.
Our rebreathers require specific sized bottles, which fit inside the unit to
supply oxygen and diluent gas. Max’s were not with us but I had both of
mine. We decided to use one of my bottles in Max’s unit as his oxygen
bottle, and supply the diluent gas via offboard tanks, which could be
supplied by the local diveshop and then jacked in externally to the
counterlungs of the rebreathers. This setup was a complete botch job, but it
would get us into the water straight away. The only problem would be that
the hoses that run from the onboard diluent tank to the BC power inflator
would have to be left off, meaning that our BCs would have to be inflated
manually. This was OK except we would have to remove our rebreather
mouthpieces and breathe off our bailout regs to do it.’ NO drama ‘, I
thought. Well actually I didn’t think, and that is why I am writing this.
All went well initially. We descended down to the bow section of the wreck
then onto the sand at 35metres just below the first cargo hold. I decided to
inflate my BC a touch so I closed my mouthpiece, picked up my bail reg and
filled it. I went back onto the rebreather for a second then decided to add
a touch more air to the BC. I grabbed the reg again, topped up the BC and
replaced the rebreather mouthpiece. A moment later my rebreather went ape.
The handset computers, which maintain the partial pressure of oxygen, began
to sound their alarms. I looked down to read them, they were telling me that
the oxygen PPO2 in the rebreather loop was up at 2.8bar, double the
recommended safe limit.
Immediately I assumed that the electronics had failed and had begun to
inject O2 at too high a rate, and that to stay on the rebreather would be
dangerous. I still had the bailout reg in my hand so I put it back in my
mouth and begun to monitor the rebreather to see if I could tell what was
wrong. Nothing seemed to change, which was odd. About 2 mins went by and I
began to feel that the gas I was breathing was becoming difficult to draw,
as if I was actually running low, but I couldn’t be. I looked down to check
the contents gauge of the bailout bottle, only to see its reg hanging below
it. My foolishness dawned on me in an instant. The rebreather electronics
weren’t failing they were reading correctly. At the moment I had picked up
the bailout reg the second time, I had actually picked up the open circuit
o2 reg attached to my onboard oxygen cylinder. I filled the BC with the O2,
then breathed pure O2 back into the rebreather loop, sending the computers
haywire. Then Id replaced the O2 reg into my mouth and began breathing
straight off it.
It’s only a three-litre cylinder and I had breathed it dry at 35 metres. A
PPO2 of 4.5 bar for over 2 mins. I should not have been conscious. I grabbed
the bailout reg and did the bolt up the long sandy slope to the surface,
wondering if at any point I would conk out and become a statistic. Obviously
I made it, but I stood on the beach for an hour afterward kicking myself,
again and again. Actually it was longer than an hour, it was more
Like anyone I've got an ego. I like to think I am pretty good at what I do.
The trouble is when we stop thinking and start taking things for granted we
come unstuck. I haven’t had any major self-inflicted fuck-ups since these
two, and Ive stopped kicking myself. Life goes on, but from now on, I’ll
make bloody-well sure I keep it that way.
Trevor Jackson wrote more :
Learning to Climb
© Trevor Jackson
There's a tree in my mothers back yard that is 1000
feet high. At least that’s how high it used to be. Now its probably only 50
feet high, it shrank considerably as I grew, but to two nine year old boys
it would seem a 1000ft. That’s how old we were when my brother and I first
climbed it. My mother was never the type of person to inhibit or quash any
of our swashbuckling activities as youngsters. Whether it be climbing a
1000ft tree or crossing the 50 mile river, she lived on the theory of ‘feed
em, love em, and leave em alone’’.
25 years later after first stepping up onto the lower boughs of that tree, I
was sitting on the front deck of the Esperance Star with twenty grand worth
of diving gear strapped to me, about to climb another tree, with a minute or
two to reflect on the events that had led to me being there.
Climbing a big tree usually starts with a lot of dust kicking around the
base, a few nervous looks up, walking up, walking away, some deep breaths…
In mid January this year I was fortunate enough to attend a speech given by
Dr. Simon Mitchell about his remarkable life in Diving. He knew I was in the
audience and was constantly referring to the fact that I was a pirate and a
thieving wreck pillager, occasionally pointing an accusing finger up towards
where I was sitting. This amused his captivated audience no end. After the
speech Simon invited me round to his apartment for the first session of dust
kicking around the base of the Centaur Dive.
Basically we’d both been planning to dive the Centaur, but logistically both
plans lacked what the other could bring. We needed lots of divers, lots of
gear and lots of practise. What Simon knew about gas physiology I made up
for in knowing how to find the wreck. What I knew about putting together a
16 man dive crew Simon made up for in putting together a 4 hour dive plan, a
symbiotic relationship at first that would later develop into firm trust and
friendship. Neither of us knew if our plans would ever develop into anything
more than just a couple of early middle aged bachelors talking shit over too
many bottles of red wine. But the more times we got together the higher the
dust would fly, and pretty soon others were around us kicking madly, looking
up, sneezing and gagging at the idea, maybe we should step up the first rung
and see if the base of the tree would hold us all, see if we had the
climbing skills, see if our mothers would call us back down.
Our first deep dive together must have filled Simon with doubt about his
selection of dive buddy. The weather the night before the dive was atrocious
so yours truly had decided that because no sane man would go out and attempt
the Jennifer K whilst a 30 knot gale prevailed, I should get heavily and
squarely on the piss. At 6 am the next morning the phone was ringing with
the Kiwi on the other end saying, “Where the hell are you?.” Even on the way
out I doubted the dive was on till his kiwiship kicked me in the guts whilst
I was lying on the galley floor of Ocean Cat and asked , “Are you coming
softcock?.” I jumped up cleared my head and the dive went uneventfully.
“That was 85metres, I thought to myself on the way in, another 100 and we’ll
have it cracked.” Our feet were firmly planted at the base of the tree
trunk; it was time to look about for some serious dust kickers to give us a
The one thing I noticed about that first dive off Ocean Cat, and subsequent
lead up dives off boats other than my own, was that the dive was a lot
easier for me than usual because I didn’t have the added worry of still
being responsible for the boat even whilst I was underwater. I know it
sounds like a wank thing to say, but part of my mind is always on board when
diving from the Esperance Star, and if we were to get anywhere near the
Centaur, I’d have to be concentrating 100% whilst down there. When
assembling a team to help us, this was the foremost thing on my mind; this
has to be sorted properly.
You can count on one hand the number of people in this world that you can
trust and rely on absolutely, and you can count on one finger the people
with those attributes, plus an inherent knowledge of the boat that was to be
our platform on the big day. Dr. Carl Watson was the ONLY person that could
do this job. I conned him into it, it must be said he was reluctant, he
reckoned he didn’t know enough about tech diving, I told him he knew more
than enough about the things he needed to know about. He need to be
disciplined, he needed the respect of the other crew and divers, he needed
to be able to kick arse and have it stay kicked, he would be in charge,
would he do it? Yes he would.
We got together some of the other key players and had a big meeting, fairly
loose. Simon brought along his dive plan and some documents which outlined
the basic proposal from both diving and philosophical points of view. We
talked at length about the role of the support divers, what gases to carry,
in what amounts, how long on the bottom, what if we get lost etc. etc. As
the weeks went by it became more and more apparent that we were in fact
going to attempt to climb this mammoth tree, in some ways the biggest tree
that had ever been climbed, by any kid. We’d got up off the ground and were
still looking up, no- one was going to call us in for tea, it was time to
reach higher, commit further.
Around mid April I started to get the gear together. Each of the support
divers would arrange his/her own equipment but there were 12 nitrox/oxygen
bottles with regs to source, rig and fill. A 200metre+ shot line would have
to be designed and built, plus two spare shot lines to be deployed if the
bottom divers got lost and needed to be shadowed by a pickup boat.
The bottles and regs were easy. I rang my old mate Blue Zone Bob and his
reply to my request was, “as much gear as you need, no problem”. This was a
big call for Bob, every other person we had approached for assistance or
sponsorship had kept us at very long arm lengths. Not that I blamed them.
There was a very big risk in being involved in a dive like this, but Bob
didn’t give a shit, he would help no matter what. The tanks needed to be
rigged so that they could be quickly snapped onto the shot line at the
required depth once it was set. I went out to the local hardware store and
bought a couple of dozen of those clips you would use on the end of your dog
lead, I shackled these to the tops of the tanks and this made a very neat
little connection point. The first support divers would meet us down at
about 40 metres would carry two of these tanks each, they were 88cfts filled
with 50/50 nitrox. If we were on open circuit they would clip the tanks to
us, if we were ok and still on rebreathers they would take them up and stage
them on the line at about 20 metres. We were already carrying enough open
circuit gear on our persons to enable us to get up to 20 metres should the
rebreathers shit themselves at the worst possible moment, so the guys
meeting us at 40 was really just part of the “feel good factor”, which on a
dive like this was not something to be taken lightly.
As we were all pretty much first timers on a dive this deep, the shot line
took a fair bit of thought. I went out and bought two 120metres coils of 16
mm rope, did a bit of rudimentary mathematics and chopped the length down to
200 metres once they were spliced together. [After we’d finished the dive we
realised this was about 30 metres too long, but more on that later]. On the
wreck end of the rope we shackled 15 metres of half inch chain and our
specially fashioned shot weight/anchor, the “Max Factor.” The ‘Max Factor’
was a modified G-size gas cylinder with 8 steel wings welded to it. It was
open at both ends to allow it to fill with water; the wings were to act as
grapples when the shot hit the bottom. The whole lot weighed in at about 180
kgs, and took some serious manhandling. The bottom 100 metres of the rope
had cyalume sticks attached every 5 metres, because we learned on our
125metre lead up dive that things would be like night time on the bottom, we
wanted every chance of seeing it in the dark if we got a little lost. On the
surface it was a fairly standard set of floats holding the lot aloft, with
loops spliced into the rope for tank attachment every 3 metres from the
surface down to about 40 metres. The whole thing took two whole days to put
together and sat in 44-gallon drum on the front deck.
May the 1st came. The team had planned to be ready by that date and for all
intents and purposes we were. Anxiously we watched the weather. Climbing a
giant tree required great weather. We had one or two false alarms, and then
on May 12, I rang the team. ’Tommorow night, 8 o’clock’. Simon got there
early, about 2, and we sat on the front deck quietly all afternoon drinking
coffee and assembling the final items. One by one the guys showed up till at
8 o’clock, with a full compliment, we quietly slipped to sea.
It was our final night of dust kicking, our final walk up to the trunk, this
time we would climb and climb to the highest and thinnest branches, they
would sway and sway and we knew we’d feel giddy, and we knew the view would
be a once only. Next morning I got up at about 6 am and started to steam out
past Cape Moreton, setting the GPS up, nine miles to go. Some friends on
another boat called, “Predator’ had past us on the way out and had gone to
find the site ahead of us so we didn’t have to muck around trying to find
it. They did a good job and as we arrived Skipper Tony slotted in ahead of
us and led the ES straight to the wreck, it read 177 m on the sounder.
Things got real tense for the next half an hour, I remember yelling at some
of the crew at one point whilst we were about to drop the shot, something
like,’ get the fuck off the front deck’. Everyone was jumpy. With everyone
clear I kicked the Max Factor through the side gate and she rocketed down
into what was sure to be a darkened seabed. Things got even more tense,
there was a fair bit of muffled laughter and a little subdued bravado. It
was like goodbye at a train station, we were soldiers going to war, or
backpackers flying to London, or somewhere in between. One of the girls
started to cry, I made a silly joke, I felt good to have this true and loyal
crew around me, it was a moment in time I will never forget. Skipper Billy
Marsh took the helm of the ES; we got our gear on very matter of factly and
walked out to the back deck. The tanks and cameras were clipped on to us,
torches working, computers working. We walked up to the tree, and started
There was actually a little bit of confusion just prior
to the jump. Simon and I had agreed that because my descents were in general
slower than his, that I would go first and set the pace on the way down. I
positioned myself on the Starboard side of the duckboard to jump in, but the
floats had appeared on the Port side of the boat, so Simon jumped first and
I would overtake him in the top 10 metres after a short stop on the surface
to get settled. At this stage our thoughts were fairly routine, and for a
few moments it was just a normal dive. I gathered a left hand full of shot
line and started to pull down; my right hand would work the button that
controls the gas level in my counterlung and occasionally lift my computers
into view so I could check that the PPO2 was being maintained at the
required level. Down through 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 things were
fairly simple, we’d been to these branches often enough in our lead up
dives. At around 100 things start to take on a different feel, the sun goes
down and the moon comes up. Our helium rich bottom gas started to feel a
little heavy in the mouthpiece. Through 120 and 130 we were branching out
onto thinner and unscaled limbs, clouds came across the moon. The cyalumes
on the lower half of the shot line came slowly into view like stars breaking
through the cloudbank.
It was fully dark now, the light from our dangling torches made sweeping
orbs, probing into the black. The gas got heavier and heavier so I
consciously slowed the descent. Around about this point I remember saying,
‘Holy shit this is a long way down’. The cylumes flicked by us slowly, red
green, orange, no particular pattern, they were all I could see [at least I
didn’t have to look at my butt like the Kiwi did]. The point where I thought
we should start seeing the bottom had past 10 metres back, for a second I
thought we must have dropped the shot into a deep hole. A quick glance of
the depth gauge revealed 157m, surely we must see something soon. The
cylumes below took on a different arc, levelling out horizontally across the
sand, and then there, peeking through the night, I saw the white sides of
the Max Factor resting heavily on the bottom. Touchdown!
To the very tips of the leaves we had climbed, you could touch the sky from
there, where the new growth presses upwards into the light, with my depth
gauge reading 177metres, a rainforest had been conquered.
Right about now I’d like to waffle on about how mysterious and surreal it
all seemed, but that would be fibbing. The truth is, it didn’t seem any
different for a little while, it was just like doing a night dive, and as
long as we didn’t think about that monolithic column of water pressing down
on us, things would be fine. We took a half a minute to get soughted,
checked the rebreathers were working ok, no leaks, constant O2 levels, yep
shes sweet. I started to look around, the next thought that I recall was,”
don’t tell me I’ve come all the way down here for a f***ing sand dive’’! I
couldn’t see anything; the lights weren’t penetrating far enough to show any
wreck or part thereof. I looked down at my torch and saw that the glass had
imploded, yet it still seemed to be working. I turned it off. Man it was
black. Simon was behind me and off to the right. For a second, in a way, we
were alone in the abyss.
Now if you want to know about gas physiology and the like then my buddy is
the one you should talk to, hes the scientist. I knew enough however to know
that the strange patterns I was beginning to see in the water above and
ahead of me could have been caused by old brain not coping real well with
the sudden descent. I checked the PPO2 again, took a quick glance at
Einstein and noticed he was looking at this strange phenomenon also, “Great
we’re both crazy,” I muttered. Slowly the patterns began to take a more
comprehendible form; it looked like black wallpaper with large white flecks.
“What the hell IS that?” I asked myself. I remembered where I was, I
remembered why I was there, and I remembered the 268 sailors that lay here.
This was the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur. The white flecks across the
face of this black wall were fish, trillions of them, don’t ask me what
species, I wouldn’t have a clue.
We had literally 90 secs of bottom time left. There was no time to unclip a
reel and spool over to the ship, and we had planned not to leave the shot
line without first attaching a line. I had to make what I thought at the
time to be a selfish call. I turned around to Simon and gestured that he
should wait for a second with his lights shining. I took off towards the
wreck in the hope I could guide him over if I could still see the wreck and
the cyalumes at the same time. Arriving beside the hull the seconds had
ticked away. As I cast my disbelieving eyes up at this great monolith, and
as Simons torch cast a shadow of my considerable girth against the side of
the wreck, I knew that visiting hours were up at this Hospital.
A funny thing about climbing giant trees is that you’ve also got to climb
down, you can’t just jump. Another funny thing about trees and treeclimbers
is that whilst trees take CO2 and turn it into Oxygen, treeclimbers do the
opposite, turning O2 into CO2. If a treeclimber produces too much CO2, and
is too high up a tree, then things get sticky, branches sway, a climber can
get dizzy, a climber can fall.
I made it back to the Max Factor ok. Simon had darted off to check out a
fire extinguisher which lay about 5 metres away and I had started my pull up
the long line. I shone my lights down on him to help his investigation, and
then he left the bottom. The video taken on the boat the night before the
dive shows the good doctor explaining the dangers of high CO2 partial
pressures to some of the support team. It was irony at its finest. Simon’s
rebreather has a giant 4.5 kg scrubber and we knew before the dive that my
2.5 kg Co2 Scrubber was going to be pushed to the limit on the bottom. We
did not and do not see this as a fault with the unit. For its rated max
depth of 100m this is more than adequate, but we were climbing a bigger tree
and had it in mind through out the build up that a Co2 ‘hit’ was a remote
possibility. We trained for it, put back up systems in place, if it happened
we’d be ready. It happened.
At about 165m I began to feel short of breath, I knew I should not be so I
pushed the button on the front of my unit that flushes the counterlungs with
fresh gas. I inhaled through the mouthpiece and exhaled through my nose,
spilling the counterlung gas out through the edges of my mask. In turn the
button I was pushing fed fresh gas into the unit and after a few seconds
using that procedure the old counterlung gas was flushed completely out of
the unit. Unfortunately, just as the CO2 had taken quite a few minutes to
build up to a toxic level, it would take just as long to work its way out of
my system, and in the meantime, I was not in a nice place. I had to keep
flushing and keep ascending, ever mindful that there was no escape option
here; I couldn’t abseil down the tree.
My head was throbbing and I felt sick, I felt like I would lose
consciousness for a second, then I went into a plateau where everything
seemed ok. I got up to about 120 when it hit me again, harder. Delirious. We
learned later that this temporary feeling of wellbeing was the most
dangerous point, I almost lost my grip on the branches, and the fall was
unthinkable. I tried to concentrate, I thought about my friends on the boat
and how I wasn’t going to make them search for a marker float that was never
to come. For them I would fight this monster off. I thought about my family,
how my brother, the toughest man alive had rung me and told me he felt giddy
and sick to the stomach as we steamed out past the Cape. I thought about my
mother and how she never stopped me from going that extra step, in anything
I ever wanted to do. I would fight this barstard coz I knew he didn’t have
my stamina, he would only last another few minutes, I hung onto the line.
The light began to come, the cyalumes passed by one by one, the sun began to
rise, and with a fresh breeze beginning to blow, I pulled up at 100metres.
Simon had ascended much slower than me. Things in the noggin had settled
back to normal except for a throbbing headache which was to last for days in
one form or another. The next step was to get back into the fold of the
normal dive plan. In my pocket was a tiny plastic booklet which outlined all
of the deco schedules we would follow, both in an emergency and if things
were going well. I flicked through the book to find the appropriate runtime.
Surprisingly things were still perfectly on schedule and I was due to ascend
to 80 and stop for a few mins. The only problem was that I still couldn’t
see Simon below me. The procedure for separation was that we would both
shoot a lift bag to the surface. If we were off the line the pickup boat
would deploy with an entirely independent team of support divers with a
backup shot line which could be deployed down to the lost diver. I must
admit to beginning to feel a little anxious looking down the line of
cyalumes and not seeing Simon. The time to ascend to 80 had arrived and I
strained to see him, his entire outfit was black, including his unit. I
thought about shooting the lift bag to let the surface know we were
separated. I reached around and felt for a reel, unclipped it and looked
down again. I gave it another minute, then finally, Simon’s torch glared up
at me, faintly, but he was there all right. Phew!
Once we’d re-established contact the dive was fairly bog standard. Climbing
further and further down the tree was comfortable and easy. Darryl Waters,
our first support diver met us bang on schedule at 45 metres, asked few
questions like, “Are you alive?”, and then took off to stage his share of
the deco bottles on the downline. Shortly after, Dean Wort and Lynn Taylor
joined us and from that point on we were accompanied right through to the
surface for a final runtime of 3hrs and 44 mins.
Back on board the crew had cleared the loungeroom out and put together what
looked like a mobile hospital ward. A massive bed had been made up on the
floor and we were quickly into bed and onto the pure O2 for an hour. Darryl
took our blood pressures every 15 mins or so and after the hour was up he
said something official and doctor like, “Congratulations gentlemen, you’ve
just completed one hour of post dive oxygen therapy, BP’s are normal,
symptoms of DCS nil”. Everyone in the room applauded. I jumped up and asked
for a smoke. I was refused. I looked down at Simon who was still lying there
with his O2 reg still in place, “So what are we going to do for kicks now?”
I asked. Simon simply shrugged and said, “Don’t know mate, but we’ll think
Published with permission on
Author: Trevor Jackson - Esperance Star -Story
The anatomy of a serious diving accident.
sea on a boat and diving down under the water is not the safest thing in the
world to do. It is not as safe as say laying in bed at home under the
blankets or sitting around watching TV, but in this day and age procedures
are in place so that if an accident does occur, help is fairly readily at
hand and advise can be sought at a moments notice. Professionally run
charter operators and dive shops must have in place an effective procedure
to rescue and evacuate a diver who has had an accident. Accidents take many
forms, drowning, heart attack, decompression illness, even shark attacks.
Emergency procedures must include contingency plans for any occurrence. The
following story outlines some of those procedures as they were actually put
into practice and some of the aftermath. Private boat owners would be well
advised to work out their own procedures. If an accident occurs there will
be absolutely no time to start flicking through phone books to get emergency
numbers, or wondering what to do. Action must be automatic and decisive as
minutes may count in determining the outcome. The featured accident
occurred in May 2003, on the wreck of the St Paul. The victim was using a
closed Circuit Rebreather, a device that enables the user to
his/her own gas and maintain a set level of oxygen in that breathing gas.
They have many advantages over normal open circuit dive gear in terms of
decompression and gas consumption, but they can be deadly if not used in
exactly the correct manner. The victim had 100’s of dives to his name and an
accident was the last thing on his or anyone else’s mind that calm autumn
day. Within minutes of entering the water however, a life-threatening
struggle would be taking place.
Myron Wintonyk is
dead. I can see that he is dead, his face is blue. Foam is oozing from his
nose and mouth. White foam like from a shaken up beer can. And not just a
bit, a lot! His eyes are bulging and they’re open, staring at the sky. The
foam seems even to be running from them too. His wetsuit is bloated, his
arms are stiff. People are yelling. But its that blue color that tells me he
is dead. Its not a natural color, it’s from a movie, or its kids playing
with eye shadow. I’ve not seen one this bad before, only in pictures, only
in nightmares. I know that Myron hasn’t breathed for nearly two minutes and
I don’t know when the foam will stop, it just keeps coming, how can we get
o2 into him if it doesn’t stop. Myron is dead. I point at him and I actually
say it, “He’s Dead!” people hear me say it. Then I turn and stop and turn
back again. People are looking at me for directions, they want to be
ordered, and we have to do something.
24 hrs after that
hellish scene on the duckboard of the Esperance Star, Myron Wyntonyk brought
his wife and young son down to the boat to see the crew and pickup some
gear. I came up the stairs from the passenger’s accommodation and there he
was, large as life. There he was breathing on his own, standing up, not
smiling yet, but alive. His wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and
simply said, “thanks”. It was a phrase they would be repeating to lots of
people, all round town.
Divemaster, 300+ Dives, the victim
Sean Inglis, rescue
diver, 100 Dives, rescuer
Instructor, 500+ dives, rescuer
Robert Cook, 300+
Instructor, 500+dives, first aid
Instructor, 500+dives, first aid
Lars Van Der Reijden,
Divemaster, 100+ dives, first aid
Instructor, 300+dives, first aid
Skipper, 500+dives, co-ordinator
Physician, 500+dives, phone advisor
Chopper Pilot, name
Chopper Winch man,
Coast Guard Radio
Operator, name unknown
Poster, critic, not present, name unknown
Saturday May 24th 2003 near Cape Moreton Qld.
Divers are walking up to the jump point on the port side of the Esperance
Star. In buddy pairs they call out there gas levels to the DM and jump in.
Its one of the most beautiful days we have had all year, seas are glassy
calm and the viz from the surface looks as though its exceeding 20 meters.
The wreck of the St Paul lies on the sandy seafloor 40 meters below. Sunk in
1914, she is one of the most popular dives in the area, attracting dozens of
divers each week when the weather permits. She is also considered to be in a
depth that categorizes her as a dive for experienced divers only. In terms
of diving this wreck Myron Wyntonyk, with over 300 dives and the holder of a
dive master’s ticket for some years, would be considered an experienced
8.00 am Myron has
appeared on the front deck wearing his Closed Circuit Rebreather. He and the
dive master are talking about the dive. The dive master asks Myron if he has
completed all his pre-dive checks. Myron replies that he has. He looks happy
and I enquire about his intended dive plan. He says he is doing a No- Deco
dive of about 9 mins planned bottom time. From outward appearance his unit
looks fine and all seems well.
Myron enters the water and begins to descend with his buddy Sean Inglis.
Sean reports later that Myron-“ seemed all out of shape with his gear and
bubbles were coming out around his mask as if he was on open circuit”
divers reach the bottom and can see the wreck just a few meters beyond the
anchor. Sean has one eye on Myron the whole time as he felt uneasy about the
way Myron seemed to be acting. “ Myron just wasn’t comfortable, he seemed to
be falling out of his gear, I asked him if he was ok and he was negative ,
he wanted to go back up, yet he wanted to swim towards the wreck, there was
something seriously wrong. Myron began to swim towards the wreck; I grabbed
him and spun him around. He went into a fit and was suddenly unconscious.”
Rachel Murphy was nearby trying to salvage an anchor and some rope she had
found. She saw that Sean had grabbed Myron and was trying to drag him back
to the anchor. Myron had spat out his mouthpiece and was taking in water,
Rachel went to help. She grabbed her own Occy reg and tried to force it into
Myron’s mouth- “It wouldn’t go in because his teeth were clenched”.
The pair dragged
Myron up the anchor chain passing other divers as they went. At around the
8-meter mark they were met by diver Robert Cook who quickly assessed the
situation and grabbed Myron himself. Rachel broke away from the victim and
went quickly back down to 12 meters. Robert began to swim Myron to the back
of the boat whilst Sean continued to the surface to warn the lookouts that
there was trouble. He then dived straight back down to 10 meters to commence
some safety stops.
on the boat, Damon Blackwell and myself are on the front deck looking at the
bubbles coming up from the wreck. A lift bag had just appeared off the port
side of the boat and we were wondering if there might be a diver doing a
safety stop under it. I yelled out to Lars to keep an eye on the bag for
later retrieval, as it seemed there were no bubbles near it and therefore no
diver. There were heaps of bubbles coming up from near the anchor chain.
Damon said-“too many bubbles, actually”. Seconds later Sean broke the
surface and yelled something. All I remember hearing were the words “Myron”
At first we didn’t
know what to think. I thought that Myron was stuck on the bottom or just
needed a hand or something. I directed Damon to throw on his gear and get in
to find out. Before he had a chance to get halfway along the deck we could
hear the commotion at the duckboard at the rear of the vessel.
Robert Cook had arrived at the duckboard with Myron. Damon had run down the
port side of the vessel and had arrived there also. Lars and Dave were
already pulling Myron out of the water and out of his gear. I arrived at the
back of the boat seconds later. I look down at Myron and say out loud –
people hear me say
it. Then I turn and stop and turn back again. People are looking at me for
directions, they want to be ordered, we have to do something.
face is covered with foam which just wont stop flowing. I know that we will
have to clear his airway if we’ve got any chance of bringing him back. There
are people everywhere and divers still in the water. Lars Dave and Damon are
on the back deck with Robert and Myron, Christine is in the lounge behind me
and I’m standing there in a momentary daze, truly believing that there is
nothing we can do to save this mans life. I suddenly get dragged back into
reality and someone is yelling, it’s me, but its all one sentence-
GET THAT GEAR OFF HIM GET THE O2 OUT YOU TWO DRAG HIM INTO THE LOUNGE
SOMEONE GET THAT GEAR OFF HIM GET THAT SUIT OFF GET THE O2 GET HIM IN HERE
GET HIM IN HERE GET HIM IN HERE”.
The boys drag
Myron through the door into the lounge where Christine has already got the
O2 ready; he’s as floppy as a rag doll. Dave starts mouth to mouth, checks
for a pulse while Damon chops at the wetsuit to expose Myron’s chest. Chris
by this stage has handed Dave a pocket mask and he continues EAR. With each
breath Myron lungs ooze more foam, then finally he coughs. As soon as it
looks like Myron can breathe on his own he is put on the Oxygen while
someone else grabs the ventilator bag in case we need to force feed him the
O2 at some point in the very near future. This has all happened in seconds.
Myron has coughed up more white foam in chunky bits all through the lounge;
the place smells like vomit and shit. At this point I’ve turned and raced
through to the bridge and flicked through the channels of the marine radio
to the station I know the local coast guard will hear me best on.
VHF Channel 81
“Coast Guard Redcliffe,
Coast Guard Redcliffe, Coast Guard Redcliffe this is Esperance Star,
Esperance Star, Esperance Star”.
Operator- “Esperance Star this is Coast Guard Redcliffe go ahead please”.
Guard Redcliffe we have a diver in trouble suspected of near drowning and of
decompression illness, we require an immediate evacuation to hospital”.
Operator-“Affirmative Esperance Star we will dispatch a vessel to your
location, could you give me your exact position?”
Trev-“Aaar Redcliffe Coast Guard we are going to require an airlift for this
incident, this is a serious situation, I repeat I will require an airlift!”
The coast guard
operator soon asked me to go to VHF Channel 63 so I could speak to the Water
Police directly. They soon transferred to the Ambulance Service who asked me
to describe the patient’s condition, our position and the sea conditions. I
had also made a phone call during this time and had Hyperbaric Physician
Simon Mitchell on the speakerphone.
8.20am We organized
the airlift with the Ambulance then Simon talked me through any secondary
aid we might be able to give Myron. This included the ongoing maintenance of
his airway, which we were told could present a problem at any stage.
Messages from the doctor and Ambulance to and from the first aiders were
transferred at a rapid rate, whilst there was still the ongoing issue of
divers in the water.
8.40 am It would
have been very easy at this point to get a bit slack in our normal dive
supervisory duties, so when everyone was back I ordered several headcounts
to ensure that the tension of the situation hadn’t made us overlook
anything. Lars had been required to go out in the pickup dinghy to gather in
a few divers that had lost contact with the boat. With everyone on board I
began to winch the anchor as the faint drone of the Chopper could be heard
from the west above Cape Moreton. Simon was still on the phone, the guys
wanted to give Myron some water but Simon said ‘No Way!!!!!!!!!!!’
8.55am We had
established contact with the Helicopter. I knew the protocol for an airlift
so we had started to steam with the breeze just on our port bow as fast as
the ES could go. I sent several of the crew upstairs to secure anything that
could be blown around and to try and lower any radio aerials they could. The
chopper would be very close to us and the down force is incredible. We also
had the added issue of seagoing traffic. It was after all a perfect day and
there were dozens of trailer boats in the vicinity. I looked ahead and could
see that there would be problems ahead I told the Chopper that we may have
to adjust our course as we weaved through these boats but he didn’t respond,
I don’t know if he heard anything.
9.05 am Myron was
still with us. As Lars, Damon and Chris had secured the ship for the
choppers arrival, Dave had stayed with him the whole time, assisted by Sean.
He had begun to speak but it was gibberish. He was actually shouting through
the 02 mask, it sounded like he was saying “get me to the border” but we
decided later he must have meant either ‘toilet’ or ‘hospital’, or maybe
‘port’, I don’t know.
9.15am With the
Paramedics on board the tension was slightly relieved. The Chopper was right
above us thundering away as we weaved through a few small boats. It must
have been an amazing sight for them. The Paras went over Myron and although
he was critical it was determined we could move him onto a stretcher and try
to get him into the Chopper. David and Sean picked Myron up and took him
onto the back deck where he was strapped into a stainless steel stretcher
.We then lowered the dinghy crane and hoisted Myron above and onto the top
deck, all the while weaving through a mass of stunned onlookers. The chopper
came bearing in and the first Para was snapped off the top deck with Myron
strapped beside her in his stretcher.
9.55am Minutes later
the second Para was giving the thumbs up and in an instant he was gone and
the Chopper sped off to the west. I looked around the top deck at a stunned
and silenced boat crew, then wandered down stairs and pulled the revs back.
I turned the boat back towards the Cape and wandered if we should just go in
to port straight away. We still didn’t know if Myron would live, if he had a
major lung expansion injury or anything. I turned to Chris and asked her to
make a cup of tea. It had just turned 10.00 o’clock; it had been quite a
1.30pm We had just
tied the boat up back at the Marina. It had taken three and a half hours to
get in from the Cape. We had decided to call the trip off and head straight
in. Rachel was beginning to shows signs of having a mild case of
decompression illness. Sean Inglis had all but destroyed the inside of one
of his ears in his rapid ascent with Myron in tow. Sean had voluntarily swum
from 40 meters to the surface in less than thirty seconds, and then ducked
back down to ten meters once he had done what he could. The whole boat was
shell shocked, even the Captain. Myron had literally been dragged back from
beyond the brink of death. Reports from the hospital were that he was
resting and being treated for an Arterial Gas Embolism at the Wesley
Hyperbaric Chamber, although the consulting physician was fairly confident
that the treatment was purely precautionary.
2.00pm I went out
onto the back deck to have a look at Myron’s gear to see if it could be
determined what might have caused him to black out at depth. I knew that the
workplace inspectors would want to confiscate the gear and find out for
themselves, but I also knew that these devices would be new to them and the
cause might not be apparent to someone not familiar with the equipment
unless there was an obvious fault.
It didn’t however,
take long to see what the problem had been.
On page three of the
Buddy Inspiration Manual its states:
keeps you alive: Normally, closed circuit rebreathers are used by
experienced open-circuit divers. This can bring a level of overconfidence
which can lead to serious problems. You are a novice again, please accept
that and build your rebreather experience gradually.
Further into the
manual on page 13:
of Breathing of the Inspiration is under 3 joules per litre at 50m. This is
the limit specified for open circuit diving regulators. The counterlungs are
in the best possible position for overall ease of breathing in each
orientation of the diver.
On page 28:
essential to keep the breathing bags/counterlungs down on your shoulders.
prevented from floating upwards by the Fasted buckle located on the lower
edge of each counterlung.
Then on page 31:
the counterlungs down is extremely important and care must be taken to
ensure they are not allowed to float above the divers shoulders. If this
happens, breathing resistance will increase dramatically…. Increased
breathing resistance means increased CO2 retention.
What the manual is
basically saying is that inexperience will kill you and that if the
counterlungs are not secured firmly down to the shoulders you could
experience a CO2 build up, and we know that can kill you. But Myron’s
counterlungs weren’t just loose and rising above the shoulder, they weren’t
connected to the down straps of the harness AT ALL. This would cause them
both to rise almost vertically above his shoulders, causing a massive
pressure gradient between his lungs and the counterlungs. He would have to
really suck to draw any breath. It would be like trying to breath off a
5-foot snorkel, all sucking with little result. That combined with the
effort to get to the bottom at the St Paul, and the influences of partial
pressure on the CO2 levels that were no doubt building up in Myron’s system.
All of it adds up to a recipe for disaster, and it took only a cursory
glance to notice that Myron’s harness was incorrectly fitted and that the
counterlungs had not been attached to the harness. It was a mistake that
could not have been detected when Myron was standing up in his gear on the
front deck, as gravity held the counterlungs close in on Myron’s chest, but
in the water there buoyancy lifted them up and high: it was a mistake of the
first order. In open circuit terms it would be the equivalent of jumping
into the water with your first stage not attached to your tank valve. Back
to that quote on page three of the Inspiration manual.
keeps you alive: Normally, closed circuit rebreathers are used by
experienced open-circuit divers. This can bring a level of overconfidence
which can lead to serious problems. You are a novice again, please accept
that and build your rebreather experience gradually”
Myron had succumbed
at depth to the insidious effects of CO2 build-up, the curse of the CCR
diver. It had taken just minutes to render him unconscious, proceeded by a
minute or so of appearing to have lost the plot completely. The reality in
Myron’s mind would have been that although he knew something was wrong he
didn’t know what and although he knew he had to do something his body
wouldn’t do what his mind told it to do.
Sean Inglis had
described that Myron did not look right in his gear and he was correct, but
not knowing about rebreathers himself, Sean couldn’t determine the exact
nature of the problem. He knew enough however to stick close enough to be
able to render immediate assistance to the surface when Myron lost
consciousness. If a single act should be highlighted as the root cause of
Myron’s survival it would be this. Followed in no small way by the first aid
administered by Dave Walton at the surface. The outcome of Myron’s accident
had been changed by a small degree of luck and some cool heads under extreme
When Myron brought
his family down to the boat the following day I couldn’t help hearing my own
words echo through my head “He’s Dead”. Yet there he was. I also couldn’t
get the sight of his blue face out of my mind. I asked Sean after they had
left what would be the defining moment for him of the whole experience, what
image would he keep forever, and it is fitting to complete this story by
quoting him directly;
“When I spun Myron
around on the bottom and he was gone in the head, he spat his mouthpiece out
and began to jerk about, all I could think about was the night before I had
watched him saying goodbye to his wife and kid in the car park, I remember
noticing that he seemed to spend ages up there with them. I had this picture
of him standing there with them, yeh, that’s what I'll remember”
Myron’s report of the incident
the first dive of the weekend. It was a near perfect day and I was ready to
play with my new rebreather. The first dive was on the St. Paul. It’s was
a familiar site and I’d been here many times before. What a better way to
start the weekend. But things didn’t start out that well. During an
inspection of my gear just prior to the dive, I realized that my computer
has a dead battery. This doesn’t cause any real concerns though. Another
diver had a spare and it is the same brand as mine so I am familiar with its
operation. After this quick fix, the gear checked out fine.
of the last minute gear change, I was nearly the last diver into the water.
This didn’t cause any concern as I didn’t plan a long dive and I’d only be a
couple minutes later than the other divers.
open circuit SCUBA, a rebreather requires you add diluent (in my case air)
into the breathing loop as you descend. As I descended, I did have some
difficulty breathing, so, I attributed it to not adding diluent fast
enough. The problem abated somewhat by adding more air, more quickly. Once
on the bottom, I realized that there was another issue. I had not switched
from low set point of 0.7 PPO2 to the high set point of 1.3 PPO2. This had
the effect of making PPN2 higher and I believe I was also suffering from
high degree of Nitrogen Narcosis. I attempted to correct this situation,
but I was having difficulty focusing on the task and was unable to locate
the handsets to make the switch. At about that point, I became aware that
something else was seriously wrong and that I was getting more anxious by
the second. I signaled my buddy that I had a problem and had to ascend.
Just then, I lost contact with the anchor chain and I was slightly
positively buoyant. I swam back down to the chain and then I started to
move along it towards the boat. My buddy grabbed me and started pulling me
the other way I turned to him and signaled again, I have a problem and I
have to go up. He continued to pull me down. At this point, I remember
looking up and thinking I need to go up and my buddy is pulling me down.
I’m not going to make it. I thought I’m sorry Gisela (my wife), but I’ve
failed you. I fully expected that this would end very badly. That is the
last thing I remember before being revived on board.
note that the above paragraph was written from the perspective of a very
disoriented person. I realize now that certain things didn’t make sense. I
kept finding things that weren’t there on the way down. At the time, I
thought that’s odd, where did they come from. On the surface, the answer is
painfully obvious. My buddy understood exactly what was going on and was
pulling me towards safety. I on the other hand was swimming farther down,
thinking I was trying to get out. It seems that when I lost contact with
the anchor chain I tuned myself 180 degrees before I reacquired it.
thing I remember was waking up in what appeared to be the lounge of the
Esperance Star. I was lying on my side and I recognized the furniture and
surroundings. Not knowing how I could possibly have gotten there, I
believed that I was having a dream. Dave Walton was above me telling me
that I’d had an accident. Bullshit I thought, “I’m having a dream and it’s
a weird one at that”. I looked around some more. I recognized the people
that I could see. I recognized the furniture. What the hell was I doing
here? My back was hurting badly. I tried to lie flat. Dave would have
nothing to do with this and kept me on my side. My throat was so dry I
could hardly speak. I begged for water. I was told, “No, the doctor says
you can’t have any”. Bloody hell, what kind of dream is this?
afterwards, I saw a paramedic. She introduced herself and spoke briefly
with me. I have no idea what she said. I remember thinking, “I don’t know
this person”. Perhaps this isn’t a dream after all. Maybe this situation
is serious. It was about this time that I lost control of my bowels. Let
me tell you, it was a very unpleasant feeling, lying there in my own shit.
the paramedic to repeat her name. She did. I could hear the logistics
being discussed in the background. Where should we air lift him from?
Front of back deck? Back. I was carried out and placed in a basket on the
lower rear deck. They wrapped me in a blanket and then, I was winched up
onto the upper back deck with the boat winch. The helicopter returned and
started to winch me up. The wind makes me dreadfully cold. I hit my head
on the landing gear of the chopper. I was too weak to push myself away from
it. They get me into the chopper. I ask the paramedic what her name was
again. She tells me again.
point, I was certain that this is not a dream and it was real life. OK I
thought, I appear to be in good nick. I’m in a helicopter on my way to the
hospital. I guess I’ll be OK. A few minutes into the flight, I started
having difficulty breathing. My back hurt so much that it’s very painful to
breathe. The problem grows rapidly worse. I would estimate I was taking 3
breaths every 2 seconds in an attempt to get air into my lungs. I am still
on oxygen. I ask the paramedic what her name is, she tells me again. I ask
how far to the hospital. She shows me her watch. No, how much longer? 5
minutes she tells me. I don’t know if I can hold out. I’ll try. I hear
them radio ahead. I don’t remember the words, but it sounded like they
didn’t expect me to be breathing when I arrived. Holy shit. This is
after we landed, they had me in the emergency ward. I was still not in
control of my bowels yet, and there was shit everywhere. They strapped on a
special mask which (as I understood it) forced oxygen into your lungs.
Although I could not take any larger breaths, I was not as starved for air.
I was still in severe pain though. They asked me if they I wanted them to
call my wife. I told them to wait a couple of minutes. I was thinking I’d
catch my breath and talk to her myself. That would be better. Obviously, I
still wasn’t thinking straight. They shot me up with drugs to make my
breathing easier. They didn’t seem to help, but at least I wasn’t in
immediate distress. Things happened rather quickly at this point. There
were needles and IVs everywhere.
they’re talking about going to the Wesley for the recompression chamber.
The next thing I know, I’m in another ambulance. I’m still on nearly 100%
O2, but not the forced ventilator now. Once at the chamber, things slowed
tests to see how I was neurologically (stand with your eyes closed, what
date is it, and the hardest of all, what time of day is it? How the hell
would I know? I’ve had other things on my mind …
Hyperbaric chamber at 18 MSW I went for a couple hours on 100% O2 (2.8
PP02). I looked at the exact schedule, but can’t remember it. Something
like 20 minutes on, 10 off, 20 on, 10 off, 30 on, and then “ascend” to 9 MSW.
30 on, 20 off, 90 on. Sound pretty boring doesn’t it? Well, it is during
this time that I started to think that I was going to live through this
thing. I began to wonder about the people who rescued me. I heard that
Rachel is on her way to the chamber. I began to wonder what the hell I was
thinking being down there. Simon Mitchell just happened to be in town and
stopped by the chamber after hearing of my problems. After speaking with
him and Trevor through the radio, the exact cause of my problems becomes
clear. When I assembled my gear, I had not strapped the counter lungs down
properly. This caused them to float over my head and increased breathing
effort. Because of this, my body produced more CO2 and could not get rid of
it. A CO2 “hit” is what I experienced.
time that I was released from the chamber, Rachel arrives for her
treatment. I was feeling pretty good physically by then, so I spent some
time talking with her. Again I realized the danger that my friends have
placed themselves in to save my ass.
the night in the hospital under observation. Presumably for secondary
drowning and salt-water aspiration and any other complications. I was
released from the hospital at about 9:00 the following morning. I conferred
with the hyperbaric chamber and was told that I did not require any
that day, I returned to the Esperance Star to retrieve my gear and I
confirmed that it is assembled incorrectly. I can’t believe that I made
such a stupid mistake.
I am physically unscathed, mentally, I am in not in such good shape. The
following few days are very traumatic. I find myself crying often which is
not like me at all. On the following Tuesday, I contacted a couple of my
friends who were there. After talking to them, I realized that it’s not
just me that’s struggling with the aftermath. They are having difficulty
dealing with it as well. As odd as it seems to me, some were worried that
they didn’t do enough. While I was thinking what else could they possibly
have done. After all, I’m not only alive, but well.
will need to deal with this in their own way, but it is apparent that it’s
not a simple thing. It’s not just me that has to deal with this, but my
family and my friends that were there too. I can only imagine the picture
of me lying on the duckboard, “
no way to thank my saviors. There is no doubt in my mind that if they had
not acted quickly and decisively, I would not be in the condition I am in
today. Perhaps crippled, perhaps brain damaged to some extent, perhaps
dead. The fact that I not only survived, but am at work on Monday is
totally amazing. When I think about it for longer than a few seconds, I
start to cry.
I am so
sorry to have put people in such danger. I am so sorry for causing such
stress to my friends. Killing myself I can live with, but … Thankfully,
their injuries were relatively minor in nature.
fortunate to be alive, and as Trevor said, there was luck involved, but as I
see it, it was the fact that I was on board with the right people. After
that, there was no luck (either good or bad) involved. I did it to myself.
I learned from this incident? Well, the CCR is a serious piece of kit.
This I knew. However, what I did not fully comprehend before was the fact
that you MUST be able to concentrate and I mean concentrate on 10 things at
once. If you can’t you shouldn’t be using a rebreather. I think it’s that
simple. I lost concentration and damn near died, probably should have
died. So there are several questions for me to answer over the next 6 weeks
while I’m out of the water … will I dive again? Duh.. yes, for certain.
Will I dive a CCR or OC? That one is much more difficult. I certainly want
to dive CCR, but to determine that, I must determine if I can concentrate on
10 things at once for an extended period of time. I have to look at myself,
nothing to do with diving. Can I do this? I’ve failed once. If I fail
again, the chances of such a good outcome are slim at best. I have 6 weeks
to think about it. I’ll keep you posted. If I decide I can’t, perhaps I
should have taken that $55 I was offered for the thing at the chamber. I
hear Inspirations don’t sell to well on eBay.
closing, thanks to all involved. Trevor has mentioned many of them, but I
know in my heart that Trevor himself had a big role too. If I had to guess,
he kept everyone on task and made sure things got done (sound pretty easy).
I owe my life to each and every one of these people. I downloaded my
computer last night. I see that I was brought from 38M to the surface in
less than 30 seconds. They could have killed themselves. That’s a selfless
act. I was on board and having CPR administered to me so quickly that there
was no brain damage, meaning that CPR began with 4 minutes of me going
unconscious. Damn that’s fast. A few more seconds here or there and the
result would have been somewhat less satisfactory.
From a rescuers
him over and fluid poured from him ( like emptying a container ). When I
started EAR fluid would pour out of him with each time his chest contracted.
After the first set I looked for a pulse but could not feel it. At that time
I looked at Damon who was busy trying to cut away his wetsuit ( with a
kitchen knife )so that we could begin CPR. I'm sure that he thought exactly
the same as me " that this is useless he's dead". I continued EAR getting
more fluid pour out after each breath. I then checked again for a pulse and
thought I could feel one. Myron still was not breathing. Christine then
handed me a mask which I used for another maybe 6 breaths. It was at this
stage that Myron took his first breath and Lars called out to you "He's
breathing" I'm certain that you were on the phone
to Simon at this stage. We then got him on the O2 but had to pull the mask
away after about every third breath as it filled with fluid. His breathing
began to quicken and his pulse became very obvious. ( I suspect that whilst
this seemed an improvement was perhaps Myron's most critical time ). His
breathing then slowed and he gained consciousness very quickly.
And a passengers
”Today on an early morning dive on the St Paul (42m) a male diver
experienced difficulties and soon after reaching the bottom passed out
unconscious. The diver’s buddy and a DM on the trip immediately ascended to
the surface with the unconscious diver where resuscitation was commenced and
breathing re-established by a passenger and staff, while the crew
immediately contacted emergency services and called for air evacuation of
the patient. Contact was maintained while the helicopter was in transit with
a diving physician providing direction on the ongoing treatment of the
The then conscious patient was air lifted off the boat by the rescue
helicopter service and transported to Wesley for subsequent treatment.
I would like to say as a witness to a large portion of the above events that
the action of several individuals stand out and the whole emergency was
handled with exceptional calm, poise and professionalism by the dive staff,
involved passengers and crew of the Esperance Star. I cannot strongly
impress enough how the quick and decisive actions of the individuals and
staff involved prevented an extremely serious incident deteriorating. The
successful airlift and transfer of the patient is a credit to all involved.
In light of the accident and the suspected DCS of one rescuer, and blown ear
drum of the other, the remainder of the trip was cancelled, and we returned
to harbour, so that others could other could seek proper medical assessment.
At this point I can add no other details except that the patient was
receiving chamber treatment from last reports and that my thoughts are with
the patient and his family and for his speedy recovery.
As usual speculation will be rife in this incident, but I ask that we can
all show some restraint and hope that the person involved will be in a
position to recount his experience at some point in the future.
To that end I will not be responding on this forum to any inquires regarding
the incident.” Matthew MacLean [MHD]
And the predictable critics
great look for the industry, is this Recreational diving Trevor . Why do you
need to go so deep and stay so long when to a lot of people you can't do it
very well (Look at your History Trevor). How many people is that now on ES,
how many more people now have we lost to diving that will never try because
of what was reported in the news.
People die and get injured so why do it.
Why praise you, when yes you may of save his life, but how come they always
need saving on ES, and with certain dive operators.
Ask some questions on why it happened how it happened and how does the
industry stop the people that let it happen.
ES is a boat that the industry need it to stop operating, or Trevor stop
doing stupid profiles.
Look at what your actions is doing on the dive industry. Wake or get out or
you will get forced out.”Anon
And from the Doctor
"diving physician" referred to in MHD's original post, I would just make the
comment that this is yet another example of a critical emergency that was
handled in an exemplary manner by the ES crew. My friendship with Trevor
Jackson is no secret, but it is an honest friendship and I do not hesitate
to tell him when I think he has missed the mark on any issue. Matter such as
this are no exception. However, I have been the recipient of patients
(previously) and advisor (on this occasion) during emergencies on ES, and in
contrast to the vacillation and muddling that I often see, Trevor and his
crew never seem to have any difficulty in facing up to what has to be done,
and then doing it professionally. My congratulations to all involved.
Without any doubt a life saved.” Simon Mitchell
few months later
was at a party recently. The conversation was lively and somehow we got onto
the subject of age. All the clichés were there; “I’m 53 but I still feel 17
inside”, “You’re only as young as the woman you feel”. It occurred to me
that of all the people in the room, I would be the only one who would say
that I felt older than I was. On the way home I sat in the cab staring out
as the lights went by, wondering why it was I should feel so drained, so
much in need of a yearlong sleep. Id been working a lot that much was true,
the boat had never been busier, almost constantly at sea for months, but Id
done that forever so it couldn’t just be that. Something else was there.
Nearly four months had gone by since the accident. Since we pulled a blue
faced foam gushing diver onto the back deck of Esperance Star. Devoid of
life, sightless eyes staring at the sky. We put him in a chopper and he
lived.. It was a mixture of luck and good management. The people involved
had done a lot right that day and apart from some uninformed criticism, the
weeks that followed the accident were a healing time for everyone that had
been present, not just the in water victim. Well at least that what I told
myself, but looking back I think I see now that the healing process has only
just begun, things actually got worse following that day. The system that
the government had put in place to protect people in a workplace, can in
certain circumstances do more harm than good.
You can put the people involved in that accident into two categories; those
that have gotten over it and those that haven’t. One thing separates the two
groups quite definitively. The group that haven’t gotten over it were
subjected to a witch-hunt by the Dept. of Workplace Health and Safety. The
reason they were subjected to a witch-hunt was that they were in the firing
line with regard to who would be to blame for this accident. They had to
find blame. Now I wont go into details about the woes of the others involved
in the investigation, I'll only speak for myself on this one.
We live in a society where individuals are reared on a diet of offloading
blame onto the next guy and being responsible for nothing. I can go to a pub
get flogged off my head and then win a court case against the pub when I
faceplant the pavement up the street, after I probably argued till I was
blue in the face when the bar staff told me Id had enough and that I should
settle down. I can take up an extreme sport fully aware of the dangers. Make
a stupid mistake, get injured, and then get paid out at the cost of some
poor soul who was simply providing the service I had asked them to.
One thing I will say about the moment that accident occurred, everyone who
could have possibly had the finger pointed at them over the incident,
everyone that modern society could have assigned some type of blame to for
it, was adversely affected in the way they reacted to the incident because
of the thought of that impending blame. If even for a split second we react
slowly or stop to ‘consider the consequences”, we are not providing the kind
of rapid treatment to a victim that he or she might otherwise receive.
Common advice when an accident occurs in a workplace is to document all your
actions as you make them on some sought of time scale. In a dive accident
for example I might write down
9.34am Diver seen on surface
9.35am Dinghy retrieves diver
9.36 am Diver to ES
etc etc etc.
I mean come on, is this really necessary? Does it help the situation at all?
The short answer is no, we do these things to ‘cover our arse’. So when a
problem occurs, instead of spending every second tending with the real
issue, we waste time bullshitting around with this type of documentation so
that when were done saving a person we can later defend ourselves against
someone who might say we didn’t do a good enough job when we were saving
them. In other words, in the act of actually dealing with an emergency, we
are further burdened by the fact that in some way big or small we will have
to defend our actions. I remember steaming in after the Myron accident and
thinking, “well that was fun, now the shits really gonna hit the fan”.
When accidents like these happen the investigation begins almost before the
boat is even tied up. Dive gear must be secured, initial statements taken,
thumbscrews applied. When I had my first interview with the department
regarding this particular incident the investigator said that in future if
we were to have another accident I should phone him before I get to port so
he can interview everybody before they leave the ship. I can tell you that
if Id have known that before docking there is still no way I would have
subjected anyone on board to that type of grilling, given what they had
already had to deal with that morning.
The interview he and I had consisted of him basically asking me to dob
someone in for what had happened, it lasted for nearly three hours. At the
beginning of the interview he asked me not to say anything unless I “knew it
had happened”. He then asked a series of questions and when I replied, “I
don’t know”, he asked me to reconsider my answer. For example at one point
he asked me who had filled tanks that morning, I replied that I didn’t know,
he then asked me, “well who could have filled them?”, thereby asking me to
speculate when he had earlier clearly asked me not to speculate. At no point
did he ask me what I thought had caused the accident and when I offered my
professional opinion he said he wasn’t interested, despite him not even
knowing what a Closed Circuit Rebreather even looked like and only ever
having done 30 odd open circuit dives in his life. In the end I insisted on
putting something about the cause of the accident into my statement and he
was more or less forced to record it. He then confiscated some of my dive
gear for “testing’.
When he finally left I couldn’t believe the line of questioning he had
taken. What a meticulous and ruthless hunt this really was going to be.
Other interviews were along similar lines, the “so who do you think was to
blame” line of questioning seems to be the standard operating procedure. Now
I’m not suggesting for a moment that workplace accidents not be
investigated. One would imagine that the information gathered may help in
the prevention of further accidents, but this didn’t for a split second seem
to be the object of the exercise. All the parties involved were given a
similar interview; it didn’t take long to realize we were all ‘suspects’ in
some sought of surreal crime. Imagine having been through that type of
trauma, done your level best, then to be put under the critical microscope
for what, as one observer put it was, “a life no doubt saved”. In the end
they gave everyone their gear back without so much as a “by your leave”. We
felt we had all been hung out to dry.
Until yesterday, the 11th of September 2003, I hadn’t touched my rebreather
in nearly four months. It sat still wrapped in plastic, the batteries in a
packet beside it, waiting to be picked up and brought to life. Diving using
this type of equipment had been a true passion for many years, now it was
dead. Whenever I looked at the unit, I had a chill run through me. It had
become a lump that had to be shifted from one bunk to another, had clothes
piled onto it, been tripped over and cursed. I thought it was because of
what we had seen that day. I thought that perhaps subconsciously I had lost
my stomach for it, lost my nerve. I justified my lack of diving by claiming
that it was because I was too busy, too tired, too sick; too bored. But none
of these were the whole truth.
The truth is that I just didn’t want to be there anymore. My beautiful boat
had become the bain of my life. My joy in helping people discover the
underwater world had dried up and shrivelled. I thought long and hard about
giving it up. Not because some ill informed twits had had the odd dig from
anonymous internet keyboards, but because despite my best efforts to do a
good job, and having done what I considered to in fact be a good job, I was
being made feel guilty by a Govt. Dept which is meant to look after my
interests as much as the next guy. My mental health, and the mental health
of my colleagues, had suffered. Suffered at the hands of the Dept of Health
and Safety. In a tangible way we hadn’t been injured, there were no scars or
wounds. But its fair to say we were no longer functioning at full capacity
either, and some were affected more than others.
I sat on the top deck of the boat yesterday staring at my rebreather,
saying, “go on, just pick it up, do the pre-dives and go for a lap, don’t
let this shit get to you any longer”.
Most people would consider me a tough guy, big, mean strong, and I haven’t
always lived strictly on the right side of the law, but this was a hill I
was struggling to climb. To put the unit on and get into the water was
somehow a symbolic way of thumbing my nose at the guilt trip the Dept. had
laid on me, a way of saying no I’m not taking this shit from you any longer.
I flicked on the handsets to start the pre-dive warm-ups, maybe I’d just see
if the batteries were still charged. Before long I was standing at the jump
gate on the starboard side of the ES and talking to the dive master, telling
him I would be taking it easy and doing a ‘no-deco dive’ with 17 minutes on
the bottom. The rebreather had booted up perfectly and was urging me on. I
The St Paul on a winters’ afternoon is one of the worlds magical places.
Giant schools of kingfish swam in a mesmerizing roulette wheel pattern.
Estuary Cod darted in and out of the machinery spaces as baitfish were swept
down current onto the wreck from the north. I hovered like a spaceman at
38metres, checked the PO2 displays and descended the final few feet to the
decks of the antique ship. What a place I thought. The visibility stretched
out to about 30 meters and it was easy to forget the problems of the world
and become once again hypnotized by the joys of technical diving, not just
getting there, but being able to stay there a while too. Sometimes I feel
like my progression into technical diving was really about me wanting to
become more of a part of the depths, not just an intruder. I felt the weight
of the past few months begin to lift. This type of diving was a gift that
only a few people had had the chance to discover. Outsiders had been making
me feel like the sport I enjoyed was a bad thing, I was beginning to picture
them hunting witches in the 18th century, or being on constant lookout for
Martians or Communists, history would eventually prove them fools.
I took another glance at my computers, 17 minutes had elapsed, at the 18th
minute I knew I had been cleansed, I would regain control from now on. I
ascended to 25 meters and turned to take a final glance at the spectacle,
“its good to be back”, I thought, and made my way back to my own world.
1] To my
knowledge no charges or infringement notices have ever been issued over this
2] A 40
metre, 17 minute no-deco dive is possible using a closed circuit rebreather
and careful depth/time monitoring
After nearly four
months the whole accident thing was really only just beginning to settle
down. It had been a sobering affair and it should serve to all of us as a
reminder that we are in a world different from our own out there, outside
our comfort zone where our the instincts we have evolved to keep us alive
above the water may be tested to the full extent
The caustic cocktail,
a personal experience.
Original text by:
The Mobile Install Shop
Many of us have heard the term used in rebreather
diving called the “caustic cocktail”. From stories of just a bad taste in
the mouth all the way to a lung full of nastiness. Until yesterday I had
just experienced the bad taste in the mouth variety and then only once.
Yesterday I was doing a dive with my friend Kent, off of the Nautilus
Explorer, we were poking around the bottom of a
wall at about 145 fsw, looking at very large urchin shells that were no
longer occupied. I had about a minute of NDL left and began to move up
the wall, Kent was about 20 feet away and 10
feet deeper than me. Interesting how fast things can change. With
absolutely no warning, one breath of gas changed into a breath of liquid.
I instantly had a mouth and throat full of sodalime dissolved in sea
water. My trachea spasmed (that probably kept
me from drowning) and blocked the mixture from my lungs but sent some into
my stomach. Pulling the mouth piece out and closing the DSV took a couple
seconds and I was holding my breath and spitting up into the water while
the panic was rising in my brain. Fighting that off I knew I needed to
breathe soon and took hold of my Air 2 that was plumbed to my air diluent
cylinder and put that into my mouth, cleared it of water and took a
tentative breath. Air is good. I looked over at Kent and waved my light
at him a few times, no response, he was looking the other way. With only
a 13 cf diluent cylinder, that was not full when I started this dive
(mistake one) I knew that I only had a few
breaths at the 135 foot depth I was at. I had neglected to bring along a
larger bailout cylinder (mistake two) as I was not expecting to do any
deco diving this trip. I headed for the surface, keeping my airway open
and exhaling any time I was not inhaling off my very limited gas supply.
At that point I wasn’t sure if I had the gas to make it to the surface,
but I decided that I was going to make it, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
I ascended the 135 feet in about 90 seconds, not the safest ascent rate in
the world but the options were, as you might guess, limited. I hit the
surface and waved to the skiff, not the usual diver OK but the two hands
crossing above the head distress wave. Al wasted no
time getting the skiff over to me and I climbed aboard all the while
coughing, spitting and vomiting my lunch out, and gasping for breath.
I washed my mouth out repeatedly with fresh water and asked for the
onboard oxygen bottle, which Al handed down quickly. I cranked it up to
15lpm and started sucking it down. I was not feeling any symptoms of DCI
but wanted to nip it in the bud if I could. The length of my bottom time,
17min, the fact I didn’t enter deco, 18 hours since my last dive and the
relatively controlled ascent was evidence that I probably wasn’t going to
get bent, hard. I wasn’t taking any chances, I used the whole cylinder.
Then swapped my dil reg over to my O2 cylinder
and started using that. By that time most of the divers were up, but some
had not heard the recall and were still diving. I had this horrible
burning sensation in my throat and mouth, swallowing was near to
impossible and coughing hurt like hell. This was not fun. Still no DCI
symptoms, Colby, the divemaster was coming by to check on my frequently
and when Donny, the other divemaster, returned to the boat from his dive,
he took over my looking after. He holds up three fingers and says, “how
many?” I crossed my eyes and held up one finger back at him. His reply,
“you’re back”. Donny knows my sense of humor.
A boat ride back to the Nautilus, off with the dry
suit, plenty of water, some medical attention from Kim, a nurse who was a
guest on the boat and a very sweet lady, (thanks Kim) and things gradually
headed back to normal. My throat was still sore, everything, including
water, tasted like crap, but with no signs of DCI, I figured the worst was
Its now the next day and my throat is still sore, my
voice is mostly gone, similar to a case of laryngitis, and I am sitting
out the morning dive and writing this article.
I took the unit apart last night and found that my
scrubber lid was leaking. Either from not being tight enough, or
something caught under the seal. The unit had passed the positive and
negative pressure checks, but I'm thinking that when it hit the cold water
it may have shrunk the rubber seal enough to allow water to trickle in,
slowly filling up the canister until it overflowed into the inhale loop.
I felt no increase in work of breathing, heard no gurgling, and tasted no
difference in the loop, until I had a mouthful.
My lessons learned: Either fill the
dil bottle before every dive, or carry a
bailout cylinder with enough gas to ascend at a slower rate. (This is of
course only for recreational, no deco, diving, I still carry 2 sling
bottles on deco, deep, trimix dives).
In the end, the only thing that saved me was my
training and just plain stubborn determination to not die. I thank my
original drager instructor, Alan Studley, for the training that put me on
this course of discovery into rebreathers and provided me the tools to
stay alive when the shit hit the fan. Thanks Alan.
My advice to my fellow RB divers, previous
performance is no guarantee of continued results. I told someone the day
before this happened that I had never had a flood of my loop. I should
have added the word, yet. My mistake was not in having a loop flood, but
in not being prepared for that eventuality, yes I had some onboard
dil accesable from
OC, but not near enough. If I had been delayed in my ascent for any
reason, I probably would not be here today to tell this story. The
absolute number two thing in RB diving is HAVE A BAILOUT PLAN. Number one
is of course know your PPO2. Don’t just assume
you will never have a flood. I HAD BECOME COMPLACENT!!!!! Don’t let this
happen to you. I was lucky, and I had a survival mindset,
its what brought me back. Don’t depend on
luck, have a plan that you know will work. How will you know it will
work? Test it, see how long it takes you to bailout, you can do this
shallow and have a buddy time you, then do the math for the same thing at
depth, calc your OC bailout gas and then double that number, carry it
every dive, even when you are feeling lazy.
It is said that what does not kill you makes you
Thanks to Mike Lever and the crew of the Nautilus
Explorer for their timely help, care and professionalism.
4 June 2004
Port Hardy, Canada
TITAN TRIGGERFISH LOVE
With all these messages about the dangers of rebreathers,
I thought you
might enjoy hearing about an incident where my using a
prevented a serious injury.
Yesterday I was diving here (in Guam) with my Cis-Lunar in
about 65 feet
of water, when I received a strong impact on my rebreather
and then a
glancing blow on the back of my head. I was very alarmed,
but not injured,
as a large Titan Triggerfish swam in front of me to its
nest and prepared
for another attack. A Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides
gets over 2 feet long, has big sharp teeth, and is very aggressive in
nest. I am usually very cautious when I see this species,
but I had
apparently swam between the triggerfish and its nest
without seeing the
triggerfish. Once I saw the triggerfish I fended it off
with my hand-nets
(Pyle design, approved for fending off sharks :^) and
backed away quickly,
preventing additional attacks. After the dive I saw two
scratches on the left tee of my rig, and I figured that if
I was wearing a OC rig the
full force of the attack would have hit my head, instead
of the rebreather
taking most of the impact. I will definitely keep a sharp
lookout for this
species in the future.
Jeffrey Mahon, Ph.D.
UnderWater World Guam
1245 Pale San Vitores Rd, Ste 400
Tumon, Guam 96913
(671) 649-9191 x103
Fax (671) 647-1689
'Same Planet, Different World'
And story #9
author: Adam Evans
originally posted on the Inspiration news list
I don't know if there is any value in it but I thought I would convey my
experiences too. About 6 months ago, I was on a trip when a buddy of mine
noted how tight I pack my stack. I use the pat pat method and ensure that
the stack is solid (i.e. the granules in the pockets of the scrim at the
bottom [the bit where the spring is] do not move). I enquired how he packed
his stack and discovered that it was much looser than me. I was concerned
that I may over packing and agreed that I would follow his guidelines the
following week on a shallow dive. It is also worth noting that he had had a
few bad dives as he was feeling "funny" at depth and he felt that he was
unfit as he couldn't keep up with me (he is MUCH fitter than me).
The next week, I packed my stack exactly as per his guideline which
incidentally is pretty much the "new" method. When I got into the water, we
dropped to about 34ish meters and swam along at this depth for a while.
After a few minutes, I noticed that I was out of breath and it felt like no
matter how deeply I breathed, my unit could not give me enough gas. Also, I
didn't feel right, not bad enough to abort the dive, just that this dive was
somehow different to "normal" dives but I was having trouble working out
what the different was. After a few moments "CO2 build up" jumped into my
mind. I stopped and bailed out to OC (I didn't decrease the depth at this
point). After about two minutes on OC, I didn't notice much difference.
Next, I started to ascend and did start to feel much better. When this
initially occurred, I signaled to my buddy that I didn't feel right and he
kept an eye on proceedings. When I got to about 28m, I decided to try again
with the loop so I switched back, ensuring my buddy was keeping an eye on
me. Initially it started to get worse again but as I was still ascending my
breathing continued to settle down. At around 22m, I was breathing normally
and the dive progressed without further incident.
In the post dive analysis, it became obvious that the stack was under
packed and channelling had occurred. This diagnosis became more convincing
when the unit was dismantled and the scrubber assembly was inspected.
After that dive, I reverted to my original packing procedure and I have
had no problems since. Additionally, the buddy that was having the original
problems, now packs his stack tighter and has not experienced further
problems. In addition to this, I have never experienced high WOB with my
stack. In fact, I found the opposite to be true, when I packed the stack
more loosely, it seemed like the WOB was enormous.
The diagnosis of the problem was a process of elimination as there were
no signs that the unit was assembled incorrectly. Also, there were no tell
tale tracks in the stack to indicate channelling. So in the final analysis,
the thing that I had changed was probably the cause of my problems (i.e.
packing the stack too loosely).
adamevans at ntlworld dot com