It was a fairly tranquil mid-morning dive.
We’d arrived at Brothers Islands in the southern part of the Red Sea the evening before, and had already done one dive there.
We weren’t the only boat at the islands this morning, with two boats from other companies moored next to ours. We were to do a dive along the wall of Big Brother, by the Aida, one of two wrecks on the island.
Following up on my article on Nitrogen narcosis, this is a case how the narcosis can look in real life.
Knowing when other divers are in Trouble
We geared up and jumped in the water. As we descended, we could see a small group of six people swimming ahead of us, from of the other boats.
When we reached the wall, we started to descend. After a short swim, we reached the wreck, which sits at an extreme angle, almost vertical, on the wall that makes up the islands shore.
We reached the wreck along with the other group, and started making our way down it. Due to the angle it has come to rest at, it is a bit of a tricky wreck to dive, as you tend to go very deep very fast while you’re busy observing the wreck. Keeping track of your depth is critical here.
At around 30 meters, I caught up with two divers, a man and a woman, from the other group, who had stopped their descent and were clearly communicating about something, using hand signals.
It became clear to me that the female diver had problems understanding her buddy.
Affected by Nitrogen
Suddenly, the male diver gave a shrug, deflated his BCD and started swimming down with strong fin kicks. The female diver tried to grab him, but he shot out of reach of her, swimming along the left side of the wreck, which was where I was. I took two powerful kicks with my fins to catch up with him, and shook him by his BCD to get his attention.
He turned to look at me, but didn’t seem to register that I wasn’t his buddy. He gave me the OK sign and then gestured that we should continue swimming down along the wreck.
I glanced at my depth gauge, which read at 36 meters, and gave him a head shake. He gestured insistently a couple of times, before pulling free of me and attempting to continue his trip into the abyss. I grabbed him again and pulled him into the upright position.
I showed him his own computer, which indicated that he needed to move to shallower water, or risk decompression. After a while, he finally agreed. He then proceeded to grab his low pressure inflator and begin to fill his BCD, making him move rapidly for the surface. I grabbed him before he had gone up too far, and deflated his BCD enough to slow his ascent.
After signalling my buddy to ascend with us, I signalled to him that I’d follow him up. We swam for the surface at a reasonable pace, with him seeming to become more lucid as we come up. His buddy followed us up, and we reached the surface all four of with no additional drama.
Once on the surface, we were picked up by a Zodiac and the two divers were taken to their vessel, and me and my buddy to ours.
A clear case of Nitrogen Narcosis
Later in the day I got word from the crew that the diver in question was OK, and that he felt bad for the whole thing.
He couldn’t explain why he had suddenly had an urge to continue swimming down along the wreck, well beyond the limits of safe recreational diving, but he had felt sure that he could handle it.
It seemed a classic case of inter-gas narcosis, with unreasonable behavior that started at depth, but subsided as we ascended. Luckily, inert-gas narcosis goes away with no long-term effects once you move into shallower water.
The only danger is the one you may put yourself in while under its effect, as with the unfortunate diver I met that morning in the Red Sea.
Have you ever experienced Nitrogen Narcosis?
Have you experienced it on yourself or on your dive buddy? What was teh affects of it?