When a Good SCUBA Diver is a Bad SCUBA Diver
Years ago, when I was crewing on the Seeker, I had the opportunity to dive with some really skilled and talented wreck divers. Much of what I now know, I learned from them. On the other hand, I would occasionally come across divers like Ed, who was an extremely Accomplished Bad Diver. For the entire time I knew Ed, he appeared to be an excellent emergency manager who in no way understood the concept of prevention?
Ed was a deep air diver, and later a technical diver, who for several years was diving from the Seeker on impressive wrecks like the Andrea Doria. I would estimate that over that time, I watched Ed make something like 40 serious deep decompression dives. Surprising, over that time I do not believe that he ever surfaced having breathed exclusively the gas he brought with him for the dive. He ran out of gas, on virtually every dive I saw him make.
One of Ed’s many problems was that he described himself as an “air hog”. He regularly used more gas than the average diver. Now, Ed could have modified his dive plans to better fit his gas consumption rate as it was, or he could have figured out a way to carry more gas with him? He also could have consciously decreased his level of physical exertion which would have lowered the volume of his gas needs, or he could have worked to improve his level of physical fitness and cardio pulmonary efficiency? Unfortunately, Ed did not do any of these things.
What Ed did was to become extremely skilled at obtaining gas from other sources while in the water. If his problem was running out of gas, his solution was getting gas from other divers, or from the boat, and he became very good at it. Apparently, an important factor for the selection of his buddy was their ability to supply him with gas. He would also utilize dive boats that had an in water emergency gas supply. If all else failed, he would cruise the anchor line looking for gas from other divers.
You can only imagine the myriad of problems this caused. Buddies did not like carrying Ed’s breathing gas, and dive boat operators did not like putting emergency oxygen in the water for the exclusive use of one particular diver. More than once, Ed was out of gas on the wreck before even beginning his ascent. More than once, Ed and his buddy both ended up out of gas, both with a pending decompression obligation. More than once, Ed was blacklisted from a dive boat, and eventually that is what happened with Ed and the Seeker.
On one occasion, not on the Seeker, Ed returned to the surface, however his buddy did not. The buddy’s body was never found, and Ed was not able to say what had actually happened to the missing diver? On another dive, and another dive boat, Ed botched setting the hook on the Andrea Doria, and ended up separated from both his buddy and the anchor line, which was not connected to the wreck. Ed did a free ascent, and surfaced owing 99 minutes of decompression, according to his computer. The buddy ran out of gas on the wreck, but surfaced on the anchor line, and ultimately did his omitted decompression hanging from their dive boat, adrift. The vessel they were diving from was now committed to saving the dive buddy, and unable to search for the now lost Ed. It was sheer luck that the Seeker was approaching the site and able to search for Ed. It was even more good luck that we found him. Amazingly, both divers survived, and Ed was diving the Andrea Doria, badly, the very next day. I refer to divers like Ed as, Accomplished Bad Divers, because that is what they are.
Now, Ed is not going to come on my website and dispute anything I am saying here about him. This is because he lost his life, not surprisingly, in a diving accident. At some point, he decided to undertake cave training, and became certified as a cave diver. For a guy who has trouble managing his breathing gas, cave diving is either a really, really good idea……or really, really, really bad idea. Unfortunately, in Ed’s case, it was the latter. He ran out of gas, alone, after leaving his buddies, 1,200 feet from the entrance of the cave. Basically, after all that cave training, and after all his deep diving experience, he was not even close to managing the gas he needed for the dive he was making.
He had absolutely no idea of how capable a diver he was, or was not? He did not realize how dangerous he was. His focus was completely, and totally, misdirected. Ed was really capable, and knowledgeable, and experienced at only one thing, diving badly. Yes, Ed is certainly an extreme example of an Accomplished Bad Diver, but many of us may know divers who are developing their skills in similar ways, working on remedies, but not prevention.
Any out of gas situation, any emergency, any unplanned event, is cause for one to reflect. As divers, we need to honestly analyze what actually happened, and figure out why? In Ed’s case he should have taken his first out of air experience, and had a serious talk with himself. He should have figured out why it happened, and figured out what he had to do to make sure it never, ever happened again.
Ed wrongly concluded that he was an absolutely amazing and talented diver, just for his surviving!!! Ed’s survival was a monument to his extraordinary diving abilities, and no one could tell him differently? He was able to prove this to himself over, and over, and over. Unfortunately, I think he believed this the first time he ran out of gas, and probably did not think otherwise until the it was last time he ran out of gas.
This blog is not really about running out of gas, or even about poor dead Ed. I want this blog to be about honesty, humility, and perspective. Everyone makes mistakes, and most mistakes can be valuable opportunities for learning, but not when we learn the wrong lesson. If you or I survive any kind of diving emergency, did we do something right, or something wrong?