Deep-sea diving carries high-risk — ever wondered why it’s such a high-paid job? Despite it providing the opportunity to explore new areas, deep sea diving is quite dangerous, with hundreds of people estimated to die each year from things going wrong. Not only do divers suffer from claustrophobia, but they’re also at risk of a range of medical conditions and even death.
Here, we’ll explore the fatal and non-fatal deep-sea diving accidents, how they happened, and note how to avoid them. Along with following regulations like checking your diving equipment and making sure your piston rings are secure, it’s important to acknowledge past mistakes to make sure we can enjoy such a thrilling activity and stay safe as saturation divers.
Bushman’s Cave, South Africa
In 2004, Don Shirley and Dave Shaw went diving in Bushman’s Cave, South Africa, almost 1,000 feet underwater and one of the world’s deepest submerged freshwater caves. They came across the remains of Deon Dreyer who had died in a cave ten years prior, and as the body had never been recovered after several search teams and a miniature submarine were sent to look for it, they decided to bring the body back. To put into perspective, more people have walked on the moon than have descended to such perilous depths.
After 9 hours of decompression, the divers returned to the surface to come up with a plan that took months to recover the body. Shaw set off first, following a precise plan, and 13 minutes later, Shirley followed him. Unfortunately, by the time Shirley had descended 50m, Shaw had already died after he struggled with the body and the body bag far below, causing him to lose his footing and his torch line attached to his dry suit to become tangled with his guideline. Shaw’s breathing became faster, causing a build-up of carbon dioxide, resulting in narcosis.
Many medical conditions come as a result of deep sea diving, and in this case, carbon dioxide toxicity occurred, which caused shortness of breath and sedation. It’s important to maintain a steady breathing rate and although it is easier said than done, avoid panicking and hyperventilating.
A scuba training agency named RAID explained that common problems for cave diving are small equipment issues and reels tangling, the risk of which can be avoided if given proper training, remaining calm, and the emphasis on diving with a buddy. Caves are a unique environment, particularly being enclosed with no chance of ascending. The air supply is finite and natural light is limited, especially during sudden movement when sediment is stirred and blocks vision.
The Blue Hole, Egypt
In April 2000, Russian diver Yuri Lipski dived in one of the world’s most beautiful spots, the 394-foot-deep Blue Hole located in the Red Sea near Egypt. Lipski planned to get footage of the arch, a challenge to deep sea divers comparable to Kilimanjaro to hikers, which looks like an underwater cathedral.
Lipski had suffered from nitrogen narcosis due to descending too fast into the sea, likely due to his buoyancy device being too heavy, which prevented premature ascension. Lipski removed his regulator when delirious and passed away. Nitrogen can also induce feelings of delusion resulting in poor judgment as if you’ve been drinking — symptoms include physical and mental impairment, hallucinations, a sense of euphoria, and disorientation.
Since this event, there have been safety precautions introduced, forbidding unqualified divers from going into the Blue Hole altogether. Lipski didn’t train in the cave before attempting it, so if you’re considering exploring a new area, make sure you seek training if it is available, and if it isn’t, don’t attempt it. There have been too many cases of deep-sea diving fatalities when divers have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones. Remember, even seasoned divers might not feel comfortable tackling certain areas. It isn’t a competition, so enjoy it for the fun that it can be.
North Sea, Scotland
In 2012, Chris Lemons had escaped death, after being lowered 300 feet under the surface in a diving bell to which he was trying to fix a pope on the seabed east of Aberdeenshire, in the North Sea. When repairing, he heard an alarm through his earpiece and tried to get into the diving bell quickly.
A dramatic event occurred due to his computer failure, which resulted in the ship moving away, which caused his oxygen supply to cut off. Lemons survived 300 feet under the surface, making six minutes of air lasting for 35 minutes. Luckily, after his colleagues’ extraordinary efforts to save him, the saturation diver was rescued and avoided brain damage.
Chris commented: “I assumed it was the extreme cold of the water that slowed my functions down. But the gas we breathe has a high concentration of oxygen which saturated my tissues and cells to allow me to survive.”
Although this event was unavoidable, it’s important to keep calm and to maintain your oxygen level if things like this occur rather than panicking and using it up too quickly
In 2019, Kim Martin was diving in Ireland to see the ruins of the Lusitania shipwreck, where the British ocean liner was sunk by a German submarine during the First World War. After thirty years of diving, this was the last on his list of famous shipwrecks. His diving achievements and expertise were well-known — Martin had even won a medal of bravery from the Canadian government in 1996 after rescuing a fellow diver.
However, Martin’s buoyancy weights weren’t weighted appropriately for the dive, which caused him to ascend too fast, resulting in him becoming paralyzed from the chest down. In these unprecedented conditions, the pressure created by the heavy weight of the water can have many effects on your body. Decompression sickness occurs if you ascend too fast, causing nitrogen bubbles to form in your body, causing damage to your nerves and tissue, or even death. When compression diving, you must spend a certain amount of time at different heights to allow the nitrogen to leave your body and reduce the risk of injury or fatality.
The important procedure to do before any deep-sea diving activity is to check, double check, and triple check your diving equipment. One of the most common problems for divers is overweight, with many misunderstanding the reason for weighting. The added weight is to account for the increased buoyancy of the suit and buoyancy control device, not to prevent divers from floating to the surface. As we descend, the water pressure causes the equipment to lose its buoyancy, so we add small amounts of air to our suits to balance out the system and make it neutral, adding more as we get deeper as the air continues to compress. And as we ascend, we need to let out some of them so it’s easier to ascend slowly and for the nitrogen to escape our bodies.
It’s important to stay alert when driving, and never do it alone. Stay safe and don’t push yourself diving into areas you aren’t comfortable with.