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Dive Accident on Belize Aggressor

Discussion in 'Accidents and Incidents' started by Jan Neufeld Adair, Mar 26, 2012.

  1. Jan Neufeld Adair

    Jan Neufeld Adair Garibaldi

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: United States
    My Belize scuba diving vacation aboard the Belize Aggressor. . .great for the first 3 days. But, then I had a scuba diving accident on Jan 3 that resulted in a near drowning and heart attack. Third world hospital in Belize was not a great place, so doctor there had me medically evacuated back home to Leesburg Regional's ICU. Came home Monday, Jan. 9 night. Heart cath showed I had a healthy heart and the only reason I had a heart attack was from lack of oxegyn due to sea water aspiration. We had gotten caught in a very strong current. The conditions on that last dive were bad and seemed to turn worse during our dive. We made the decision to turn back early. We were doing our stop under the boat. We even saw the ladders when we were in 30 ft. We came up to 20 feet and then hung out at 20 foot for several more minutes. Then the boat disappeared from sight. We tried to wait there, thinking it would swing back. It did not. My husband surfaced to get a direction and we headed in that direction. We had to swim into the current to get back to the boat. I was swimming into the current with ankle weights on (supid). I forgot they were there. I should have dumped them, but did not. I guess swimming with the ankle weights on added to my exhaustion. When we realized there was no way to get back to the boat, we surfaced and signaled for help. We both inflated our BCs and waited for the rescue raft. When the dive instructor got to us, I handed up to him my camera and the weight pockets from the BCD. I was not able to get up in the raft with the tank and other gear on, so the dive instructor removed my BC, tank and regulator. When he removed my BCD and tank, I sank (ankle weights) as a wave raised the raft over my head. I was under the raft gasping for air. I guess that’s when I aspirated so much sea water. As I was trying to kick to get a hold of the grasp handle on the side of the raft, it seemed it was just inches out of reach as each wave raised the raft out of my reach. After multiple trys to grab on, it seemed impossible. At that moment, I gave up. I thought there was no way possible to get into the raft. The dive instructor did not give up on me. He kept saying “you will get up here” and “and we are going to do this”. I am so thankful for his calm, but forceful confidence that encouraged me to give it all I could to get into that raft. I know he was bailing water and trying to maneuver the raft as he helped my husband up into the raft. He kept a level head and made a rescue. We had a 4 hour boat ride back in to Belize city. At first we thought I had just aspirated sea water, but by morning it was apparent that I also had a heart attack. This could have been so much worse, but God has much more for me in this life.

    I know leaving ankle weights on was my fault,but I believe the crew of the Belize Aggressor had some responsibility in all this too. They have not stepped up in any way to accept their responsibility. The weather was bad the whole trip. We skipped the first dive in the morning, made the second dive and skipped the 3rd dive. The guys that made the 3rd dive said they thought conditions were too rough for any more diving. An hour later, the Captain said let's dive. We trusted the Captain to know the conditions as he is on these waters frequently. I know ultimately it is my responsibility to decide if a dive is safe for me, but the captain said it was ok. Next, the current was so strong there was a long dely in getting the raft out to us. They had to use 3 men to pull the raft up to the boat. I believe they had an electric winch, but didn't use it. Next, they only sent one guy in the raft to rescue us. I am 6 foot 1 inch - they should have known, he would need help getting me up into the raft. Further, with 2 guys in the rescue raft, they could have pulled me in with all my gear on. I would not have aspirated sea water and would not have had a heart attack. Additionally, I had been using one of their regulators. I am not sure that it was delivering enough oxygen. I have been in current before and never got this short of breath.

    I am wondering if any one else sees that the dive operator had some share of responsibility in this accident. I like to hear what you think.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 26, 2012
  2. awap

    awap Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Central TX
    In what way do you see the operator having any responsibility for your failure to remove your ankle weights?
    deepair, OttoDog, oly5050user and 8 others like this.
  3. lulubelle

    lulubelle Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Glad you got the care you needed and that you are recovering. Thanks for sharing your experience, these reports can only serve to help someone else stay safe.

    It sounds to me that all appropriate rescue procedures were followed by the crew of the boat. Removing gear in order to keep a victim afloat or to lift them into a boat is what a rescue diver is trained to do. I'm sure given that you were alert and had your feet in the water, the rescuer did not know that you had ankle weights on or they would have likely instructed you to remove them.

    Ditching gear and weights to remain buoyant at the surface is your responsibility unless you are unable to and your dive buddy jumps in to help. And it is always your responsibility to determine if conditions on any given dive are safe for you.

    Focus on your recovery and I'm glad you are OK.
    beaverdivers and AfterDark like this.
  4. tadawson

    tadawson Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Lewisville, Texas
    A rescue diver is also trained to visibly review the victims gear to make sure that they deal with it correctly. This appears to have not happened here, or the ankle weights would have been seen and dealt with.

    Having said that, despite rescue training, I don't know if I would think to look for ankle weights either . . . . .

    And I do question the wisdom of any weight configuration that when the ditchable part is gone, leaves you negatively buoyant . . .

    - Tim
  5. MMM

    MMM Orca Staff Member

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Sask. Canada/Cozumel, MX
    It sounds like a scarey dive but I don't know I would attribute your experience to the dive op.

    Swimming against current is difficult at the best of times. I'm lazy and I would have just sent up a safety sausage, surfaced, and waited for them to pick me up. It would have been less stressful and you would have had more strength to get onto the raft. It is a lot of task loading, I am sure if you aren't experienced at getting onto a raft, but the crew can't know that you are good at doing that or not. Was your husband/buddy back on the raft and helping to pull you in?

    How is your physical fitness? When I was being certified in Aruba many years ago, I had some difficulty hauling myself into the inflatable dinghy they were using to take me to some training sites. I decided I needed to go to a gym and build up my upper body strength to perform those sorts of maneuvers. Well, lower body strength also so I could climb up a ladder with all my gear on but that is another issue.
    Tigger5020 and Hatul like this.
  6. Mike

    Mike Great White

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Denver, Colorado
    You had me really feeling sorry, right up to the point you ditched all accountability and started looking for a scape goat. Please stop and accept personal accountability and responsibility for your accident. We have to play the cards we are dealt with in life and you dealt yours to yourself, your hands placed the ankle weights upon your own ankles, your own hands failed to remove them prior to removing your BC, more importantly, you failed to ditch them prior to recognizing the dangers of exhausting yourself swimming against the current.

    I'm glad you survived your accident, it sounds like it could have been much worse, it sounds like you owe the crew of the aggressor for saving your life, please don't destroy your dignity looking to place your own blame on others now, I hope in time you can not seek out others to blame for this. Focus on the future. How old are you by the way if you don't mind sharing?
    Rhodesaz, OttoDog, txpig and 12 others like this.
  7. TC

    TC Miscreant Moderator Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    Ankle weights are normally only a few pounds per pair- not something that should impede helping someone into a raft.

    I wouldn't think taking the time to check for and/or remove them would be appropriate in a rescue situation.
  8. wedivebc

    wedivebc CCR Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives:
    Location: Vancouver Island
    Sounds like you had a bad day, I'm glad you came out of it OK but I would hardly call that a dive accident, maybe a dive boo boo.
    I am really distressed that you would try and attribute any of the blame of your failure to remove ankle weights on the dive operator.
    If you want to blame anyone you should sue the dive instructor who told you that you needed ankle weights in the first place.
    Seriously though this society has become completely incapable of taking responsibility for our own screw ups.
    If that was in your mind a dive accident maybe you should take up golf.
  9. N2DeepInAz

    N2DeepInAz Dive Shop

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Phoenix, Arizona
    I'm glad to see you're doing well after this incident however, I'm curious what responsibility they had to you that they failed to uphold. :idk:

    Sending one person out in a skiff is pretty standard from what I've seen in most parts of the world. Removing your gear is typically the only way you're going to be able to hoist yourself into the skiff. Failing to remove all of your weights before removing your BCD cannot be seen as anyone's fault but your own. Perhaps you weren't familiar with the type of diving you were doing? The seas can change in a heartbeat and they certainly aren't the Captains fault as he can't control the weather any better than you could. The Captain can only allow or deny access to the water for diving. He cannot make the decision to dive for you, that is up to you. If the conditions were outside of your comfort levels, then you should heavily consider skipping the dive. To dive or not to dive, the decision & responsibility is yours solely.

    As for the regulator not delivering enough air...well, my only question is, was it working throughout the dive? If so, chances are you were overexerted and over breathing the regulator which at that particular moment can feel like the reg isn't delivering enough airflow. We are taught when we are overexerted that we should stop what we are doing and rest for a moment to catch our breath. I understand you were in current which can then be a difficult thing to do. At that point, I would have signaled my buddy that the dive was over and we were going to surface. Anyone can call a dive at anytime for any reason. It's all about being safe and making smart decisions in the water. Overexertion has been known to cause heart attacks.

    So it seems to me that the the staff of the Aggressor did everything correctly. Not being there personally makes it harder for us to pass judgment but it seems in line with the norm. You mentioned you handed them your weights from your BCD, well that should've triggered something in your memory to remove your ankle weights too. In the future, never give up your BCD unless you have a firm hold on something buoyant or you're positively buoyant for sure.

    Rest up, get your doctor to clear you to get back in the water and go do some more diving.
    Jim Lapenta likes this.
  10. Bratface

    Bratface Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: St Thomas, VI
    I am glad you are here to tell your story, but there is no liability on the dive operation or dive master. They did all they could to keep you from drowning at the surface, and getting you medical care. For that you should be thankful. There is a huge personal responsibility in diving. Any diver can call the dive at any time for any reason, but you chose to swim back to the boat against the current wearing ankle weights which you admit you should have ditched.

    It seems that you were flown out as quickly as arrangements could be made to a state side hospital, and you survived the care given to you in a "third world" hospital. No one thinks they will find themselves in a foreign hospital, so we never stop to think about that equipment they have and the training of the staff. Believe me, they are doing the best they can with what they've got, and it seems they did pretty good for you.

    There is no need to analyze your accident any further. Thank you for sharing your event. Concentrate on your healing and get back to the water when you are ready.

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