Crowley's Blog - What is a Dive Guide? - Appendix 1A - Day of The Missing Diver
by, June 14th, 2012 at 03:47 PM (1531 Views)
So today - for the third time in my diving career - I "lost" a diver. I know I was in the middle of writing a blog with extra chapters about being a Dive Guide but I am going to interrupt that to tell you about the diver that disappeared on me today.
First of all, before anybody starts telling me how I must be strung up by my private parts and never allowed near the water again, I will point out that it's 3 out of about - pfft - well - I don't know, but thousands and thousands of divers. I think I guesstimated about 20,000 dives conducted under my supervision in a previous post about DCS, so 3/20000 is not a significantly high percentage but it doesn't half make your heart go *boom* when you turn around to realise that a diver is not simply too far away to see any more, but actually "missing"
The first incident was a lady who surfaced unnecessarily whilst I was guiding her and her husband in Thailand. We had been pushed off the reef by a strong current and were sort of faffing around in 18 metres of sand seeing nothing when she decided she didn't want to carry on diving. At no point, however, did she alert her husband or myself to this fact. Now, call me silly but when I was living with my ex-gf I would alert her to even simple, trival matters such as when I had to pop out to the shop for smokes or pop to the lavatory for a bowel movement. Failing to inform your life partner that you are abandoning him underwater with a complete stranger (i.e. me) does not strike me as a sign of a particularly healthy relationship.
The second guy I lost was at Thistlegorm some months ago - and this did cause me a few extra heartbeats at the time. Although Thistlegorm can be harsh when tying lines, I do generally believe that the dives themselves can be well conducted in all but the worst of conditions; even in a strong current, there is always somewhere to hide when you're diving on a huge lump of metal with lots of big holes. The main problem is the wreck often becomes overcrowded and lots of divers get confused and intimidated by the other groups around them and the constant presence of moving dive boats overhead.
Guiding there for sure has had it's moments, but in this case, I took the group into the rope room on the top deck of the Thistlegorm's bow, made the accepted anti-clockwise circuit from starboard to bow and counting my divers out of the portside exit door, I have 6, out of 8 who were behind me when I entered. I found the diver's buddy (experienced customers who have dived the wreck before) hanging onto a rope looking down the deck when he sees me and signals: buddy sign (forefingers of both hands together) *hands spread*, *shrug* - universally interpreted as "no smegging idea where my buddy is"
Notice that these are not "instabuddies", they are people who dive together regularly and often, and conditions on the wreck that day were not so bad, but the diver had become entangled with a different group and surfaced with them . Fortunately it happened towards the end of the dive, so I took my divers back to the ascent line which was about 60m aft of our current location, enabling me to look for the missing diver as we did so. I sent my divers up to their safety stops and then broke the world record for a lap of the Thistlegorm's stern section before I had to ascend myself.
I had to make a safety stop and although I was thinking "he knows what to do" all the time, I blew it and surfaced because I couldn't stand waiting. Back on board, the missing diver was still missing, and I started to switch to a new tank so I could go and look for the guy. As I was getting back into my BCD, there was a round of applause as the missing diver was sighted swimming back to the boat. With sheepish grins, thousands of apologies, and a couple of smokes later, we carried on and had a wonderful second dive.
And so back to today. I was guiding in Ras Mohamed and during our second dive at Shark and Yolanda Reef, one of my group of 8 divers went missing. The most inexperienced diver in the group had over 90 dives. The most experienced has over 900, but he was the guy who went missing.
His Buddy is his wife, and they have been diving these reefs for many years, and don't really need looking after. The current was running back (i.e. Satellite to Shark) but as we drifted slowly to the coral garden on the northernmost corner of Yolanda, a lot of divers swam past us in the opposite direction, against the current, although it wasn't so bad today.
I saw this big group coming and the guide was pointing out the huge giant moray that is regularly found in a coral block in the saddle between Shark and Yolanda. I waited until his group was finished then took my group over to have a look. Then I turned back to the coral garden to zig-zag through the coral just like I said I would - and I saw this super-experienced couple still hovering over the Moray. The wife knows which way we are going, and later told me that she signalled her husband to swim back to the coral garden. But no, he decided to follow another dive team.
So - I pootle around the coral garden, but I don't swim backwards and I don't have eyes in the back of my head and yet - we're following a curved path and so I do check a bit more often, especially when there's lots of other dive groups in the water, just to make sure, because I've caught people wandering off before, and also had random people from other dive groups tag onto the back of mine. Would it offend you all terribly if I said that this is the sort of thing that forms the stories that dive guides tell in the pub afterwards?
Me: So, I had this guy today, he's a super experienced diver
Me: Yeah, so, anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah - this super experienced diver
Me: So - he was wearing pink fins! Hehe
Me: Yeah- him and his wife, wearing bright, pink fins!
Dave: Yeah!? Haha!!
Me: Like, fins so bright you could us them as emergency beacons... if you were diving..., like...
Dave and me together: ... ON THE MOON!!! Hehehe!
Me: And he got lost! In 30m of viz! Because he was following the Italians! And you couldn't see the pink fins for the hairstyles!
Dave and me together: Mwaahahhaaheehee! *giggle*
Dave: Ahhhh, welcome to the diving life....
Me: 'Nother Sakara, dude?
Well, it was something like that and in a way, you've got to laugh, otherwise you go nuts. I used to work in the IT departments of quite a lot of hospitals in London and around England and I know *exactly* what doctors and nurses tell jokes about in the pub...!
The missing diver's wife apologised to me later and told me that he was blaming her for the whole debacle. He also told me that I had not kept to the plan, whereupon I told him - in his native German - that actually, I kept pretty much exactly to the plan, and - by the way - so did the other seven divers, including your wife and dive buddy of 30 years.
After he went missing I waited for a minute, then aborted the dive and sent the group to their safety stop, donating my smb in the process, whilst I swam after the dive group who were going the wrong way, against the current. He wasn't there.
I swam back as the group were finishing their safety stop, surfaced them and signalled the boat for a pickup, whilst I completed a world record for surface swimming in SCUBA from Yolanda to Shark with an opposing surface current and a captain who prop-washed me half way back to Sharm in the process. And there I saw the bright pink fins (that much, at least, was true). I looked up to see the missing diver signalling angrily to a boat that would not pick him up and at no point realising that he was no longer in the same group that he started the dive with, that he was signalling to completely the wrong boat, and that at no point did he recognize that his wife and dive buddy of 900 dives over 30 years was no longer by his side.
Please note he didn't pick a group to surface with safely. He kept diving for fifteen minutes whilst I was paddling around trying to find him, co-ordinating the abort procedure for a dive that had otherwise been perfectly agreeable, and perhaps feeling the first slight tremors of an oncoming heart-attack - because this couple are super experienced but also both over 60 years old, so - what if - maybe - he had a heart attack - at a reef that is 800m deep... What if he's not just "separated from the dive group"? What if he's already dead and his body is being swept out to sea?
Experience has shown that these things usually work out okay - and I've never truly "lost" a diver - as in, they all came back - but you need to keep the "what if"? question in your mind when something doesn't go according to plan. If you don't evaluate the worst case scenario in your mind whilst your dealing with the best case scenario, then when it all goes pear-shaped you have no chance at all.
At the end of the day, we all had a good (but slightly nervous) laugh about it. The dive team knew what was happening, they had a good dive anyway (until the last 5 minutes), and they saw a professional guide doing a professional job. The other guests on the boat requested me for both Tiran and Thistlegorm the tomorrow, but sadly I'll be on the counter again. As it turns out, after I've re-read and edited this disaster of a post, it is actually tomorrow, and therefore the day after the events occured. Malesh.
Just another day in the office,