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Very near miss - panic and hyperventilation at 70 feet

Discussion in 'Near Misses and Lessons Learned' started by jsnorman, Sep 16, 2015.

  1. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    If you've been reading up on accidents, you must have learned that most fatalities are found with their weights on. The take awsy from that is supposed to be that we learn we've a better chance of making it on the surface than laying on the bottom. During instruction, we're told when to drop weights but then in real life diving we're told we'll have to pay for any weights we lose. Some divers haven't dropped weights when they should have for the secondary message, rather than anything they learned, whether that be a situation like yours or another. Usually everyone is left shaking their heads wondering why you didn't drop your weights. I'm so glad you're still around so we can ask the question.

    I'm not so glad about your "mentor". I'm going to try and cut the guy some slack. You said he was upset that you didn't drop some weight(s). My reaction is that guy's got some fricken nerve but in cutting him some slack, I shall consider that perhaps he was upset with himself too. Because if he knew nothing else, he should have known how much of this whole situation was on him!!

    I'll leave many other significant points of this "near miss" accident analysis to dissection of others. (At least until I notice no one else mention the other elephant in the room.
    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  2. chadmeister

    chadmeister Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 0 - 24
    Location: Dubai
    And here's the cliff hanger... Chilly, a newbie like me really wants to know!! But ok, a knowledge junkie like me also will have to wait!! Hehe

    I won't attempt to try to know since I'm so fresh at this but I really want to learn...
  3. undrwater

    undrwater Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Cerritos, CA
    The camera.
    chadmeister and Angry Turtle like this.
  4. jsnorman

    jsnorman Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Chicago, IL
    I understand a lot better now how divers are found at the bottom with their weights, air in their tank, and drowned nonetheless. Panic at any depth is much more dangerous than I ever realized. I really thought I was immune to panic, but I was (very) wrong.

    All that I can say is that it is very hard to make decisions in the midst of hyperventilating and real panic. Believe me, I tried very hard to control my breathing and lower my anxiety so I could think more clearly, but huge boost of adrenaline that surged through me, the choking and coughing up water, the constriction of the thick suit and hoodie around my chest and neck, and the near black outs made it impossible for me to recover my senses fully.

    I remember that I had to use every ounce of my remaining will power just to focus on (1) keeping my reg in my mouth and breathing at all costs, through coughing fits and the horrible feeling of not getting enough air, and (2) executing on the plan I had to get to the anchor line and climb up it. My brain just did not have enough rational thought left for me to even think about other possibilities, even though in retrospect I can see other options clearly.

    I did consider dumping my weights very briefly, right after I inhaled water. I rejected the idea of dumping all my weights, only because I was choking and hyperventilating and I really did not think I would make it without inhaling too much air while ascending too quickly...and I saw the anchor line as an alternative that didn't involve the risk of an embolism. But to be clear, my decision to pursue the anchor line and not dump weights was made in a matter of a couple of seconds, and I did not take a lot of time to think it through because I had to focus on keeping the reg in my mouth which was very hard to do both because i was coughing up water and hyperventilating and because I had this insane urge to rip the reg out of my mouth. By the time I reached the anchor line and started climbing up, I was in survival mode and very narrowly focused on the limited tasks I had assigned to myself - you probably could have drained all the water from Lake Michigan, and I still would have finished my climb up that rope!!

    Even so, I still think that if I had dumped all of my weights and tried to make an emergency ascent in the condition I was in, I would have died (drowned at the surface, or from embolism) or at the very least ended up in the hospital.

    There is an elephant that no one has noticed yet?!

    ---------- Post added September 17th, 2015 at 03:34 PM ----------

    I dumped the camera as soon as I started descending too fast. I had it on a bungee so I had no concern about letting go of it, but believe me I did not think one bit about the camera. Somehow it got off the bungee too. My "buddy" was good enough to go back down and retrieve it for me.

    I also understand the points about the mistakes my buddy made. I agree I may have let him off the hook too easily, but I also am trying to be pragmatic and focus on what I can learn from this. What good does it do to point out what my buddy did wrong? He isn't here to explain his perspective (AFAIK), and he can't benefit from the assessment. I could also point out the boat captain's role - he certainly was aware of the inflator issue and agreed with the plan (which was first proposed by my buddy, not me) to go without the inflator. He did not monitor my descent at all and arguably should have been aware that something was wrong from the fact that our bubbles were so far separated, and mine had not moved from my descent point. So blame to go around, but I guess I don't see the point of focusing on the conduct of the folks who are not on this board.

    If the point is that I did not do enough research in choosing a mentor to teach me fresh water/wreck diving (or maybe I should have engaged in a formal class rather than trying to find a stranger to mentor me), then I would agree and I have already resolved that before I try anything like that again, I will be taking classes.
    bowlofpetunias likes this.
  5. Adobo

    Adobo DIR Practitioner

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Northern Cali
    I can appreciate the idea that buying new weights is well worth it if ditching weights is the best course of action. However, I personally find this kind of thinking to be far too reactive. If we are going to quarterback this dive on monday morning, we might as well get as far up the chain of events as possible.

    To me, the thing to evaluate here is, why get on a dive boat with a brand new wetsuit, brand new hood, brand new regs that have never been tested with a brand new buddy?

    Even if the OP ditched his weights, this dive was still an giant mess.

    If it were one of my friends or loved ones, my advice would be this, whenever you introduce new gear, try it out in benign conditions, preferably with a known dive buddy.

    I always felt that if I was diving with someone who turns out to be a bad dive buddy on a complex dive, it's not my dive buddy's fault.

    In many ways, a dive buddy is a lot like the other equipment you bring on a dive with you. When you need to use your buddy (for help), he/she needs to be able to perform the task. I wouldn't take a brand new drysuit I've never ever used before on what might be for me a comparatively advanced dive along with all kinds of other new equipment. Why would I take a brand new dive buddy on such a dive under those conditions?

    What I would do is I would dive the brand new drysuit in benign conditions and figure out what the gotchas are. Then when I have those things sorted out, I ago on progressively more advanced dives with that drysuit. I don't go and buy a brand new drysuit and jump off a boat on an advanced dive. That's a recipe for finding out the hard way that there is an unforeseen issue.

    I treat new dive buddies the same way.

    Again, for me, whatever issues transpired during this dive, buddy issues, gear issues, whatever, most if not all could have been avoided by taking smaller steps when introducing new *gear*.

    ---------- Post added September 17th, 2015 at 02:00 PM ----------

    I don't know which of us here would be able to consistently make clear, rational, intelligent decisions under those circumstances. For that reason, I personally try to set up my dives so I don't wind up in such circumstances. As an example, the last time I went to Hawaii with a brand new wetsuit, I did a shore dive first to figure out my weighting. I wanted to get that squared away in shallow water where I wouldn't have 5 other divers in the water waiting for me and the DM to get the weights sorted out.
    MinimalMayhem and jsnorman like this.
  6. jsnorman

    jsnorman Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Chicago, IL
    Also, I don't want it to get lost in the helpful analysis of errors, that there **was** a "hero" in this whole mess (no, not my dive buddy!).

    My OW instructor from 20+ years ago is the reason I am in this forum, and not an obit after the fact analysis. During this whole incident I heard his voice in my head screaming "DO NOT TAKE YOUR REGULATOR OUT OF YOUR MOUTH." and his assertion (which I have no idea if true, but I remembered it in my crisis) that "regulators are designed to provide air even if you are vomiting, hyperventilating or coughing your lungs out." He repeated these mantras over and over over the course of a full 6 weekends of instruction and pool work. I remember he failed 2 students just because he thought they weren't ready to dive safely. We all thought he was a a little over the top, but its his words that came back to me when this happened.

    I can't remember his name (I did my OW cert dives on vacation later so his name isn't on my card either), but he used to run a small dive shop on Diversey where the LPAC gym is now. If he happens to be reading this thread, then "thank you" is definitely in order.

    ---------- Post added September 17th, 2015 at 04:46 PM ----------

    Addendum: He would probably tear up my C card if he knew I did my very first Lake Michigan/fresh water dive, in all new equipment that I had never tested under controlled conditions, with a buddy I met on the internet, and that I had not practiced my emergency skills for several years before that. As I said in another post, it took me 20 years to disregard those basic rules of dive safety, not that I didn't know them well and have them drilled into me.
    AfterDark likes this.
  7. Bob DBF

    Bob DBF Solo Diver

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: NorCal
    Nominated for best comment in this thread.

  8. scagrotto

    scagrotto Barracuda

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Hudson Valley
    I'm trying to understand the reasoning there. Do you know how much the air in a 120 weighs, and how that affects your buoyancy at the end of the dive?
    Just because it wasn't one of the things that bit you in the ass doesn't mean it wasn't a significant error in judgment.
    Nobody is immune to panic. Knowledge, experience and skills practice can help prevent it, but everyone will panic under the right (or wrong) conditions.
    You know that it's holding your breath that causes an embolism, not breathing really rapidly, right? Orally inflating the BC and/or removing some weight would be better choices, but I doubt that ditching all the weight would have been a bad choice. There are other factors that I think you still haven't considered that may have affected your ascent.
    It isn't what you did with it once you started having difficulty that's the issue. It's that you brought it with you in the first place. On top of all the things that were new on that dive you thought that bringing a camera made sense. Check that. You didn't think about it. Not about bringing the camera, not about diving with so much new gear, not about diving in conditions vastly different than what you were used to. Some changes are pretty insignificant, but others can have real consequences. I get the feeling that a lot of what you think you've learned is based on what happened with less regard for why it happened. The simplest reason is that you did almost everything differently than on previous dives, but didn't think things through.
  9. bryanmc57

    bryanmc57 DIR Practitioner

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Mineola, TX
    I'm glad you're ok.

    There's a reason they say to stop, think, act in an emergency. Remember as long as you can breathe, you're ok. Had you stopped to think, you would have realized that you could have dropped some of your weight at the bottom of the anchor line and gotten closer to neutral for your climbing ascent. You would also have realized that if you got too positive during the climb, the anchor line could have been used to slow your ascent just as easily as it facilitated it. Climbing the anchor line severely over weighted caused you to overexert yourself and breath harder, which in turn lead to increased co2 production which compounded your situation and the feeling you were not getting enough air.

    I'm glad you got back on the horse though.
    jsnorman and chadmeister like this.
  10. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    And you'd been diving for twenty years and didn't understand that fresh water requires less weight AND that a steel tank means that you carry LESS weight not more.

    That aside , you needn't explain your panic to me. I know and understand panic. I once almost reboarded a boat by climbing up the rope attached to the buoy. :)

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