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Most frightening moments

Discussion in 'Basic Scuba Discussions' started by Diver0001, Nov 28, 2017.

  1. Diver0001

    Diver0001 Instructor, Scuba

    After seeing how the post I wrote about the reverse block resonated with people, I would like to make another post today, namely about the most frightening moments I've ever had.

    It's easy, particularly for novice divers, to think that people like myself, with decades of experience, thousands of dives and a deck of c-cards have everything under control and nothing bad ever happens.

    I wrote about the reverse block because of that. I wanted to show that I am still human and I can still make mistakes. On the internet there is a strong tendency for (technical) divers and instructors with a lot of experience to project an image of themselves as always solving problems correctly, always making the best decisions, and in the case of instructors in particular, having a monopoly on good ideas that lead to perfect students diving perfectly.

    None of that, of course, reflects reality at all.

    So I will start. I urge experienced divers to share their own stories.

    1985. I was certified as AOW and we were making a deep dive along a wall. The bottom, for all intents and purposes, at the bottom of the wall was unsurvivable. A diver who diving with a group slightly ahead of us got caught in a large ball of discarded fishing line that he didn't see. He started sinking. The incident started at 42 meters. My buddy and I had just started our dive and we saw this happening. Nobody in his group did. We went after him. This was the first time I had dived deeper than 42 meters. I couldn't tell how deep we were when we caught him because the (analogue) depth gauge I was using was pinned at its maximum depth. This was also my first deco dive or at least my first dive where I was "off the tables" and unable to to know how to ascend. I was, at that time, unaware of oxygen toxicity, gas management and ascent protocols. We returned (at a rapid pace) to 30ft. (10m) and waited there until our tanks were empty on the assumption that any damage done by our deep incursion would be fixed by that. Upon surfacing we didn't know if we were going to get the bends or not. I was, frankly, scared. It still gives me the heebiejeebies to think about this incident more than 30 years later. We did something there that was completely out of control (also the rescue) and we got off easy.

    2002, I think. I was working as a DM. We temporarily lost a diver during a dive. The situation was that we were on a platform at 25m and doing some exercises for the AOW (deep) dive. A group of divers (maybe 6) descending LANDED on us and kicked up so much silt in their attempts to slow down before impacting the bottom that the visibility went from 5m to black-out in a matter of seconds. I grabbed the two divers right in front of me and dragged them out of the silt cloud. One of them turned out to be our diver and the other one turned out to be one of the idiots who landed on us. We were missing a diver. We surfaced. Naturally our divers were told to surface if they became separated but this diver did not. He remained where he was and waited to be rescued. On the surface we decided that I would search for the missing diver because I had the most experience of everyone (including the instructor). At that point I was a DM but I was already technically trained. I had very limited time. I went back down and eventually found him but it was luck. He survived and my beard got grayer overnight. If I couldn't have found him in the next 5 min his death would have been on my conscience until I died. This was so frightening to me that I nearly abandoned all plans I had to become an instructor.

    The accident. My team saved the life of a diver who ran out of air during an AOW training dive (by another group, not mine) and was left for dead on the bottom at 18m. We acted quickly and professionally and got him into the hands of paramedics within about 10 min. As an aside, the fact that the Dutch paramedics were able to be on scene so quickly was no small part of this! He looked dead when we retrieved him. He lay in coma for several weeks after the incident. Doctors had basically written him off when -- unexpectedly to all -- he woke up and subsequently made a reasonable (albeit not full) recovery.

    The impact on myself and on the members of my team was substantial, particularly because of what we viewed as our 'mistakes'. One diver (the DM) stopped diving. He started hyperventilating during the descent to find the "body" and after that he started to hyperventilate on EVERY dive. He stopped diving.

    To me it changed EVERYTHING about how I view training and my role as an instructor. I didn't organize things on the surface as well as I could have, if I had had a second run at it. Yes, I had the EMS on site in 10 min. Police, paramedics, trauma doctor, helicopter, fire department with a boat, a private boat.... all of that I had..... but I was overwhelmed and not communicating as well as I could.

    Someone tried to chase my (uncertified) OW students into the water to go search. He didn't know that they were uncertified and I ripped him a new one in a way that I regret, giving in to the emotion. An NOB (CMAS) instructor showed me by example how to control the dive site in a way I had never learned, I missed seeing a diver (the DM who caused the accident) displaying passive panic. It only became apparent to me when they had to take him away by ambulance when he collapsed.... it was MUCH more messy scene than I had ever imagined and I was not in control as well as I would expect from myself. At one point, once the EMS had control of the surface situation I grabbed another diver (a DM) and went searching myself. This was a mistake. I can't get over the mind set that drove me to ACT when I SHOULD have been coordinating! I'm like the guy who charges into a burning building because I can't fight the urge to DO SOMETHING! I HATE that about myself.

    Since that time (it's been years) I've been replaying that event in my mind and thinking, "if I had only done XXXX then YYYY". It drives me CRAZY to think that if we were sharper we could have found him 30 seconds or a minute earlier and his recovery could have been better. The fact that he survived is utterly astounding. These things never end like that.... but I feel responsible for the fact that it took so long.

    This was a formative moment in my diving. I considered stopping as well but eventually decided not not to. To this day I cannot -- and will not -- teach or participate in the Rescue course, even though I may be the one instructor in my circle who is most qualified to talk about the differences between theory and practice. It's just too intimidating.

    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
  2. Neilwood

    Neilwood Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Scotland
    Posting this took balls and kudos to you for it. It is very hard to admit when things go out of control and even harder to try to analyse them.

    If I can as an outsider comment on them situation by situation:
    1) You did far more than could reasonably be expected of anyone. Thankfully it worked out ok but you definitely made things a lot better by your intervention - the three of you might have ended up bent due to the depth/ascent rate but you did prevent what was almost certainly a death by your actions.
    2) a good lesson on how, despite the best of planning on your part, that outside issues can cause chaos. Your student did not pay heed to the briefing where you discussed lost diver protocols but fortunately there was a good result.
    3) It is sometimes important to look at what you DID do and not what you might not have done. You DID search for him, you DID save his life which was a lot more than his own group did, you DID arrange medical help etc. Look back and think of the fact that, without you, his family would have been a lot worse off.

    Sometimes the best action you can take is to do what is often commented on in this forum - stop, breathe, think and act.
  3. Diver0001

    Diver0001 Instructor, Scuba

    It's hard not to cry here.....

    His parents and loved ones called us "heroes". We met them and they were SO grateful..... so grateful.

    Their son/husband/bother/cousin (etc) was still alive and after the accident his intelligence, personality and character were still fully intact. He *only* had some physical issues -- a reflex in his leg that was never there before.

    I didn't feel like a hero. I felt like a failure.
  4. BCSGratefulDiver

    BCSGratefulDiver Mental toss flycoon ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: On the Fun Side of Trump's Wall
    For what ... not being perfect? Accidents are almost always messy, and things rarely go the way you learned it (or taught it) in Rescue class. There's just too many variables, and it's impossible to see them all without the aid of hindsight. That's one of the most important concepts you can pass along to Rescue students ... that you can only use your best judgment and that the chances are very high that you'll make some mistakes that you won't see until the incident is over and you have time to reflect on what happened. Emotions will play a big role ... both yours and those of people you have no control over. Some things will go wrong, and the best you can hope for is that your actions will result in a better outcome than would happen if you'd chosen not to get involved.

    People beat themselves up. Lamont did when he tried to rescue a woman who was, sadly, dead by the time she surfaced. There was nothing he could've done better ... but it didn't stop him from feeling like a failure. Lynne (TSandM) did when she tried reviving a dear friend who wasn't revivable. She was an ER doctor, for goodness sakes ... and still spent way more time than she should have going through "if only" scenarios where the outcome might have been better if only she'd done something different.

    You can only do your best. Sometimes it will work out, as it did in your case ... and sometimes it won't. We're not machines. Sometimes even the best trained, the most experienced, make mistakes or do things that aren't optimal.

    Doesn't mean you're a failure ... means you're a human.

    Maybe you should reconsider teaching that Rescue class. You've got a perspective that few others who teach it have ... and if you can manage to pass that perspective on to your students, it may someday mean the difference between success and failure for someone else's rescue attempt ...

    ... Bob (Grateful Diver)
  5. Saboteur

    Saboteur Regular of the Pub

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Earth
    During an active crisis, given the confusion and chaos it is difficult to run through the different options given your resources in real time. I think all people second guess themselves after the event. You saved three peoples lives and you put yourself at some risk but from your description you weren't at grave risk of immediate peril to yourself. Seems like you were quite level headed given that you were actively in the scene and not a professional first responder with emergency management training. Don't be so hard on yourself. Three times you've done one of the greatest things a person can do.
  6. Kimela

    Kimela Barracuda

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: St Louis
    All we can ever do is the best we can with what we have in the moment. That's exactly what you did, and as a result there are people breathing who otherwise would not. Your best was life saving.

    Thanks for sharing this - for your courage and also for highlighting some things that could cause a dive to go sideways (the mass of tangled fishing line is especially frightening since you could easily miss it while looking through it.)
  7. Diver0001

    Diver0001 Instructor, Scuba

    Bob, thank you. Both for writing a post that does not "blame" me for not being better than I was and for suggesting that I should reconsider teaching Rescue.

    On the second, I will not teach rescue, at least not now (or for the last 10 years or in the foreseeable future). I understand what you're saying about transferring knowledge and being in a privileged position... and I fully agree that people could benefit from my experience. The shop, however, wants to sell rescue courses, which is not the same as teaching people how to execute a rescue.

  8. Neilwood

    Neilwood Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Scotland
    As @NWGratefulDiver says so eloquently below, you did all (and more that could be expected of anyone in those situations) and with a very very positive outcome I might add. I would imagine that the way the family feel about you is totally at odds to how you feel about the incident.

    You have done a number of times what many would refuse to do even once - stepped forward when a lot of others are walking away. Even doing that takes a lot of guts.

    As you say, accidents by their very nature are never perfect. Professional rescue services such as fire, ambulance, police etc all have intensive training and run through training scenarios to try to prepare themselves for the worst and even they, with hindsight, always find issues they could change in future. All that can reasonably be expected in a crisis is that the person does their best with the best information and equipment they have to hand at the time.

    @Diver0001 With regards to the rescue course the shop, having gotten people signed up on the course, will probably want to put on the best course possible for their students. I would say that you, by virtue of those scenarios, have more that you can bring to any rescue student than any manual - you have, as Bob says, a unique perspective.
    Dark Wolf, Kimela and Diver0001 like this.
  9. RainPilot

    RainPilot CCR Instructor Staff Member

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: UAE
    Those students will be doing a “Rescue” course anyway. It takes someone like you to take the quotes off and make it worthwhile.

    I totally get why you don’t feel up to teaching it. Ironically that is what makes you most suitable to do so.

    Either way, you’ve done your part.
  10. KatieMac

    KatieMac Photographer

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Small town Ontario, Canada
    This statement is crazy to me. Not that I don't believe you, of course I do. The part that seems crazy is that some dive instructor on AOW training dive left someone for dead in an out of air situation. So many questions come to mind ... was everybody low on air? Wouldn't there be other AOW students there who would already know how to share air? If nobody had enough air to share, why was the group still down? Are these dumb questions? I'm a newbie so I just don't know. What circumstances could have possibly led to this situation?

    Thank goodness you were there!
    Dark Wolf and M DeM like this.

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