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Lessons to be learned-Death in Palau

Discussion in 'Accidents & Incidents' started by detroit diver, Apr 10, 2003.

  1. Boxcar Overkill

    Boxcar Overkill Contributor

    That's one of the good things about Sam's. They have a lot of boats going out, and almost all english speaking guides. They can mix and match based on experience.
  2. dpaustex

    dpaustex Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: lost somewhere under the sea....(and central Texas
    Sad story. I think the current can throw a lot of people. Perhaps there should be classes just for strong currents??? I did a dive in Florida last year, and the dive boat put us on the Spiegel Grove with a ripping current. I got in the water, and swam like a mad man for the buoy/downline. It was ripping. I called the dive, as it simply wasn't safe, as I was out of my comfort zone. I've since done river dives, and gotten used to the current. But that's a far cry from a DM saying "no big deal", when you can barely see the surface marker, as it's being pulled under by the current.
  3. Doc Intrepid

    Doc Intrepid Instructor, Scuba



    New dudes - check dates before you revive old threads.

    This thread was started by the OP in April, 2003. In two months it will be six years old. Some commentary was added last summer, but for the most part it belongs in the archives unless you are doing research.

    Try not to bring old threads back from the dead! :wink:



  4. greg11

    greg11 Registered

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Louisville, KY
    I found the last few replies very helpful. I think diving would be more safe if everyone clearly communicated their experience and wishes before a dive. Its ok to say you only have 40 dives, its not about looking cool, its your life.
  5. greg11

    greg11 Registered

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Louisville, KY
    Sorry I brought this thread back to the top mods. I didnt do it on purpose. I failed to see the dates. I do however really think kevink provided a good point. Once you step out there you are on your own.
  6. DevonDiver

    DevonDiver N/A

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Subic Bay, Philippines
  7. diverem

    diverem New

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Wow. I am new to the Board but I got goosebumps just reading about this experience in Palau since I had a strangely similar situation back in November 2010 at Peleliu Corner (fortunately, with no mortalities). Please read below and sorry for the long winded nature of the letter. It was sent to the administration at the Dancer Fleet and aside from a brief acknowledgement that they had received it, I never received a reply. Big surprise.

    November 23, 2010

    Larry Speaker, Exec. Vice President
    Dancer Fleet, Inc.
    15291 NW 60th Ave., Suite 201
    Miami Lakes, FL 33014

    Dear Mr. Speaker:

    I recently returned from a trip aboard the Palau Tropic Dancer from November 7-14. I have been a passenger on several liveaboards in the past few years: Fiji Aggressor 11/2007, Belize Aggressor 5/2008, Spirit of Freedom, Great Barrier Reef 11/2008, and most recently, Star Dancer, Papua New Guinea 11/2009. As such, I feel qualified to compare/contrast my time aboard the Tropic Dancer with these other liveaboard experiences. In fact, I initially signed up for this itinerary back in July upon learning that (names deleted) had signed on to be first mate and captain of the Tropic Dancer. I had always wanted to dive Palau and given my very high opinion of (names deleted) following a 2007 charter with them aboard the Fiji Aggressor----particularly their attention to safety, organizational skills and excellent judgment, I was eager to sign up.

    So, my dive buddy and I were rather surprised and disappointed on November 7 when we learned that (names deleted) would not be aboard---particularly as they were still featured in the Tropic Dancer crew profile section on the Fleet website. I inquired whether they were away on vacation and received a rather indirect, vague answer from various crew members. In the days that followed, I was rather unimpressed by the experience level and judgment of the replacement crew and particularly the total void of leadership. One particular group of four divers aboard that week wore gloves and had the persistent habit of grabbing on to the coral to compensate for their poor buoyancy skills, as well as kicking the coral with their fins, standing on the reef and harassing the sea life---including one instance in which I observed them grabbing on to the shell of a giant clam to try and prevent it from closing. While these guys were fun and gregarious above the water, they were a complete disaster down below. Not feeling that it was my role to police or reprimand fellow passengers, I shared my concerns privately with one of the divemasters. He replied that he had witnessed the same behavior and promised to remind the group about buoyancy skills and reef etiquette as part of the next dive briefing. Unfortunately, nothing was ever mentioned, at least in public (perhaps fearing smaller tips at the end of the week?)

    The use of reef hooks had been thoroughly discussed and divers had previously done hook-in dives without incident at Blue Corner and New Drop Off earlier in the week. However, the possibility that a dive may need to be aborted and how that signal would be communicated underwater was never mentioned at any of the dive briefings. Given the potential for extreme conditions in Palau, it seems like this might have been a good idea. On a dive at Ngedebus Corner, we spent much of the bottom time swimming in the blue water against a very strong current, only to turn and drift with the current, then be instructed to start swimming hard against it again. This was annoying and led to a tiring dive but no ill effects. Unfortunately, the lack of a bailout plan became a much bigger issue on the morning of November 10th when Peleliu Corner was selected as the second dive of the day.

    Fifteen divers opted to try Peleliu Corner that morning following a clearing storm with relatively rough seas. When one of the divemasters did a current check, he stated that it ‘seemed strong’. In light of that report, I elected to leave my camera behind on this dive. The dive plan was to descend down to about 60-70ft and drift along the wall until we came to the designated hook-in site. Within the first 5 minutes of the dive, it became overwhelmingly apparent that the current was extreme. Kicking with all my might, I struggled to swim away from the wall as the divemasters were motioning for us to do. Many divers became separated, including my buddy and I. Several divers were caught in a serious down current which pulled them to depths of 130 to 147 feet----especially concerning since all were breathing Nitrox 30%. Two older divers panicked and were witnessed to have performed a rapid ascent without safety stop straight to the surface in a cloud of bubbles. I was sucked up and over the wall to a plateau between 30-40 feet and was able to hook-in with tremendous effort. In the course of kicking vigorously to stay down (as the current was now pulling me to the surface), one of my fin straps either broke or loosened on my foot and went sailing off into the blue. By the time I noticed, the current had already carried it 40-50 feet away. Fortunately at this point, 3 other divers including one of the divemasters swam into the same depression in the reef where I was hooked in. I alerted the divemaster that I had lost my fin, and he grabbed my hand and motioned for me to unhook, which I did. Before I knew what was happening, I was essentially pulled up to 15 feet depth. I motioned that I wanted to level out and perform just a brief safety stop, but I was not given that option and was told to surface immediately. Given that many divers were unaccounted for, it is somewhat understandable that the divemaster would want to surface quickly. However, I would have appreciated even a brief stop at 15-20 feet for some small margin of safety given the chaotic dive profile that I had just experienced (maximum depth of 96 feet).

    I feel that in light of the challenging conditions during this dive, the divemasters performed to the best of their ability in assisting as many of the divers as possible, as well as performing a speedy retrieval effort at the surface. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath from this dive several people complained of headaches, ear pain and many had bad scrapes from coral. Given the severity of the situation and the various personal accounts that were being told (e.g. rapid ascent from 130-147ft immediately to the surface), it seemed like a given that there would be some sort of brief post-dive survey conducted to assess each of the diver’s risk for DCI or other injuries. This was not done. Nor were any of the divers (including 2 who had been down to 140+ ft) discouraged from taking the afternoon off. These 2 divers went out on the third dive (following a 90 minute surface interval) with no second thought given to their physical or mental state, meanwhile the remainder of the divers took the afternoon off and opted to go ashore for a land tour. And even more surprising to me was the fact that there was NO debriefing of any kind following the dive nor later that evening. In fact, there seemed to be a deliberate effort on the part of the captain as well as the divemasters to sweep the entire experience under the rug---to try and pretend that it didn’t happen and attempt to minimize the seriousness of the situation in the days that followed. Strangely, anytime someone brought up the events of Peleliu Corner, the divemasters quickly changed the subject. The sole comment by the captain came the following day when he blamed the whole situation on the ‘unpredictable and constantly changing currents’ in Palau and joked that it was too bad we couldn’t buy ‘I Survived Pelileu Corner’ t-shirts at the Boatique. I somehow didn’t find this to be a joking matter, nor did any of the other passengers judging from the expressions on people’s faces following this tasteless attempt at making light of a serious and potentially devastating situation. There was, generously, one minute of time devoted to this topic of conversation by the captain.

    At home in the States I work as a physician. In the medical field, any time there is a ‘near miss’ event---i.e. a potentially catastrophic event that was narrowly avoided, a post-event review is always conducted. Other industries, such as aviation and fire fighting use similar models with the purpose of learning from the experience in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future or to increase one’s aptitude for dealing with another critical situation. So it was fairly surprising to me that there was absolutely no discussion (nor an apology) about this dive by ANY of the crew in the days that followed. It seemed to me that there was a lot to be gleaned from this experience, particularly for a group of advanced divers: how to handle a severe down current, when to consider aborting a dive, when to consider dropping one’s weight belt, instances where it might be necessary to abandon a safety stop. These all seemed like relevant, important topics that could have been discussed to improve diver safety, improve the crew’s capability of handling a future critical situation as well as provide a much needed forum for airing everyone’s concerns, apprehensions and questions. Instead, the passengers discussed the close call amongst themselves, completely aware of just how close to disaster we had come, amazed that no one was seriously injured and flabbergasted that the crew didn’t find it necessary to address any of this in the open. Meanwhile, I’m sure there was much hushed discussion in the crew quarters about how best to smooth over the situation and do damage control.

    The bottom line is that the paying passengers and crew of the Tropic Dancer that day were very lucky. It is truly amazing to me that no one was bent, suffered serious barotrauma (such as a pneumothorax or perforated tympanic membrane) from a rapid ascent, drowned or was lost at sea. As one of the first divers back on the skiff that morning, I honestly expected that at least one person would be unaccounted for or seriously injured. I was shocked and disappointed at how things were handled (or rather, NOT handled) in the hours and days subsequent to this dive. Had there been any sort of medical emergency, I don’t feel that the crew possessed either the leadership capability or good judgment to handle things in a swift, decisive and appropriate manner. The dismissive attitudes about what potentially could have been a lethal dive for several individuals was very disturbing and insulting to me and many other passengers. I really expect higher standards from a company like the Dancer Fleet and from its employees. Compared to other liveaboard experiences, this week definitely fell way short. We all should be thankful that it didn’t end in tragedy.
  8. Kingpatzer

    Kingpatzer Captain

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    ack - failed to see this is resurrected ... comment removed to avoid stirring the pot
  9. Rubber Duckie

    Rubber Duckie Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Austin, Texas
    I give the nurse Props for doing what she did. Most nurses are not trained to handle emergency's like this in the field and especially with the very limited medical equipment that she had. She did the best with what she had. Wish all nurses were like that :wink:
    vet1999 likes this.
  10. donnyb

    donnyb Solo Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: Olympia, WA
    Thanks Doc. The original Hughes boat story is from 2003. Palau is advanced diving. Nuff Said.

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