A Scuba Diver Meets Mr. Reaper: It’s Not My Time Yet

A Scuba Diver Meets Mr. Reaper: It’s Not My Time Yet

Diving accidents occurs!

This is a perfect example on why we as divers always must be prepared on the worst. A regular day of diving almost ended in catastrophe for Ani. Here he's sharing his meet and greet with Mr. Reaper: 

As I dropped three feet into the cool blue Mediterranean, which gently kissed the rocky ledge where I had assembled my scuba gear - I had not even the slightest inkling that within an hour I would be the closest I had ever been to death.

No, in fact as I splashed through the surface, with a perfectly executed giant stride entry, I was brimming with confidence.

See I’m a fantastic diver.

Since my first dive, I’ve had an uncanny ability to seamlessly transition between the human - walking awkwardly on land, to the natural grace of a lifelong sea-creature, using perfectly orchestrated dolphin kicks to propel myself with ease.

It was an exceptionally beautiful day, even when weighed against our skewed scale.

Biased by the perfect summer that only the Mediterranean enjoys. Entering the water, I remember the excitement flooding through my body.

Making a Giant Stride

As I splashed through the surface, with a giant stride, I had no idea how bad it would go! Credit: Sergey Popov V

The slow drip of adrenaline that accompanies every dive, dilated my pupils, steadied my breath, and sent chills through my body.

I smile at my dive buddys, spitting out salty sea water and signal that I’m okay with an overhead wave.

The three of us venture off a little ways away from shore to make for a smooth descent. We checked our gear one final time, and then it began!

Mask check! Regulator check! Deflate our BC’s and with a down turned thumb indicated by our team leader we begin to decent.

Starting diving

Divers deflating BCDs and are slowly descending - Credit: Hsagencia

It finally begins!

The first inhalation through the tubes of my tank marks a dramatic transition. Underwater it’s you, your thoughts, and the sounds of your breath - analogous to Darth Vader’s ominous breathing.

We began a slow descended to our predetermined depth and began our exploration. All sounds of the surface world dissipating as if the three of us were all that exist.

My excitement could barely be contained as I darted in and out through schools of fish. Executing barrel rolls like a p-40 war-hawk, firing invisible bullets at an unsuspecting barracuda completely oblivious to our dog fight.

Pure bliss

I settled into my element floating gently as if on the hand of an unseen current, carrying my weight as I continue my search through the strange world.

Thirty minutes pass in seconds; we check our pressure gauges. My war with the barracuda must have taken a toll!

I had used the most air, enough for a mere twenty minutes. I indicated a hundred fifty bar with an open palm and a closed fist.  Little bubbles escape from my lips bringing me closer to the end of my expedition.

Check your air while diving

Click the picture to Learn How to Calculate your Air Consumption - Credit: Ocean Image Photography

Our team leader, a navy seal, had nearly double that. Making me wonder if he could have completed the dive without any gear at all.

I mean does he even breathe?

Needless to say, I was jealous and more than a little annoyed that our dive would be coming to an end soon even though he had a half tank strapped to his back.

What a waste!

We settled on the ocean bed facing each other, debating the time for ascend, through a series of signals. The irritation obvious in my eyes even through the translucency of the Mediterranean blue.

Finally, our team leader pointed at his tank then at me.

I smiled, nodding excitedly.

We had just decided to switch tanks!

At this point, anyone who has ever been scuba diving would label me suicidal, but I wholeheartedly disagree. This was not a new maneuver, in fact, I had successfully completed it many times in the past.

As we began undoing our jackets I remember thinking of how I was cheating the system, breaking the only rule there is in diving - coming up when your tank is empty.

Smiling at the opportunity to have the hourglass flipped back, I pass my gear over with my left hand, grabbing his simultaneously with my right. Securing a firm grip on the jacket, I motioned for an exchange of the regulators. Deep inhale - and switch. That simple.

Read Stay Longer Underwater: Learning to Breathe

Now comes the tricky part, putting on a fully assembled scuba gear while rolling with the current. All my previous grace disappearing as I resembled a turtle on its shell.

Upturned limbs wriggling as I balance on my back.

Sliding the right hand through the strap was easy; the next move however was not. Trying to slide the left through, I contorted my hand and shoulder as I attempted to pass it through.

Didn’t get through.

Damn it!

Tried again, didn’t work! Damn! Damn! Damning my flexibility as I remembered my high-school coach yelling at me for not stretching, even at this moment; I smiled.

Though awkwardly placed on my back with the tank below me and struggling like a fish out of water, I had nothing to fear except embarrassing myself to a nearby trout. Blushing at the thought, I tried a different approach, a slightly more unconventional move. I kneel and place the jacket in front of me, pass both the arms through and then attempt to flip it up and over my head.

Disaster strikes!

The bottom of the tank hits the regulator, knocking it out of my mouth; I freeze.

Learn The Difference Between Safety and Actual Safety in Diving

My terror projected on my dive partner’s face. Our eyes lock. I dart after the regulator evading me across the sand, twisting away in a serpentine fashion.

Heart pounding, metabolic demand so high, that I do the one thing I was trying not to do.

I took a breath.

Then another. And another. Sea water pouring into my lungs with the force of a bursting dam, powered by the weight of the water above, and the atmosphere above that.

Pain like I had never felt before.

I see my limbs thrashing out in front of me as though they belong to someone else.

I kick into autopilot. Begin emergency ascent, but I’m held down! Struggling I turn back and see my fellow divers holding me down!

diver offering air to an out of air emergency

Credit: Mark Doherty

Are they trying to kill me?

Fear flooding through me as I see my limbs get sluggish, filling with lead, as the once convulsing energizer bunny finally runs out of juice.

For a moment forget the words, forget the analogies, the metaphors, and just envision me thirty meters deep, thirty seconds away from death. I was floating vertically, in the arms of the other divers as they frantically strapped me back to my vest.

Unaware of the regulator being shoved into my mouth, my hypoxic brain continues to display a halo, expanding, approaching like an oncoming train.

A moment passes, maybe two. The bright light searing my unfocussed retina.

A speck of dust floats into my vision like a fly on a white ceramic plate. Growing, slowly into a shadow. The silhouette grows an index finger gently forming a ring with a thumb. The universal gesture – are you ok?

I manage to nod, still coughing; chest on fire reminiscent of the left hook that broke my rib many years ago. Head clearing; I realize where I am; a school of soldier-fish shaking their heads disapprovingly.

I look down, surprised to see my limbs right where I had left them. I had been reconnected with the closest air source available.

Logic returning as I remember my dive mates preventing my emergency ascent, preventing my risk of lung overexpansion injury, preventing any risk of decompression sickness.

Cough subsiding, I indicate that I am ok again, fingers moving sluggishly as I check my gauges, depth – thirty meters; sounds about right. Air is on 200 bar – that’s another thirty minutes of dive time!

What can you learn from this?

We can all learn from dive accidents! What do you think you've taken from this experience?

A personal experience written by Aniruddh Kapoor.

About The Author

Torben Lonne

Torben is a top skilled PADI MSDT instructor. He has worked several years with scuba diving in Indonesia and Thailand - and dived most of his life in most of the world. He is also the co-founder and chief-editor of DIVE.in you can always catch him here [email protected]

28 Comments

  1. David Tombs

    Firstly I would say thank you for this article. It is quite difficult to say when things went wrong, and what our role may have been. A tendency to avoid this is perhaps the first risk factor. It may have been over excitement that lead to reduced observation of gas consumption. In some people it could simply be ”knowing” what your air consumption rate is causing a lack of discipline. You said that you were a ”fantastic diver” and although this may be said in a light-hearted way is may have indicated overconfidence on this dive. I also think that its easy to forget that we cannot actually breath under water. Over confidence in skills such as gear swapping which is really a means of increasing confidence and getting out of a trap is not meant to be routine. It is prone to things happening. You come up at the right time, the fact that your buddy was a SEAL does not mean that he has the skills of the actual animal and can make over reliance on such a buddy increase risk.
    I am of course not incident free. In the UK an article was produced where 95% of Doctors thought that they had above average skills, I suspect that may be similar with divers.
    We need more articles like this.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi David, thanks for the feedback – I’ll try to get more stories like this up!

      I agree over confidence can be a very big issue in diving. I can’t see myself out of having it in some occasions – and it’s not a good quality in a sport like this.

  2. Mark

    I’m above all intrigued, why was being down to 150 bar an issue? Also had you been at 30m for 20, or 30 min? And what we’re your thoughts re your NDL?

    As for the bashing yourself with your cylinder, pure bad luck really.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for the questions – I’ll try to ping Aniruddh for an answer. I’t quite relevant for the analysis of the accident.

  3. Andy

    A few things stand out to me… firstly, at what point in time did either of them think that switching tanks was the best way to alleviate the situation? Completely against any sort of training and, in my eyes, a dangerous thing to try and do just to extend your dive time by 5 or 10 minutes. Why not buddy breathe for 5 minutes and then go back to your own air for the end of the dive? Sure, you’re not as free to swim around but you still get to enjoy some more dive time, safely.

    Secondly, barrel rolls, etc? Sounds like Aniruddh enjoys performing activities which lead to faster air consumption. If he simply relaxed and enjoyed the view, his dive times would be longer and he wouldn’t be getting himself into trouble. How many times in training/courses are you told not to over-exert yourself?

    Thirdly, what pressure were these tanks filled to? 150bar left yet his buddy has “nearly double” that amount? 300bar is about the maximum pressure most dive cylinders can be filled to, had this SEAL buddy seriously used no air at all since his head went underwater?

    Not being cynical, but a few points in the article make me suspicious.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Andy,

      Depending on training agency buddy breathing is considered even more “dangerous”. Might use the alternative for a bit, that could have been a good reason. And maybe not use time doing barrel rolls.

      But what really stands out to me is how a small(or at least what Aniruddh considers as small skill) thing ends up in disaster.

      What I would like divers to take from this is how even the smallest mistakes can have huge effects, and that we as divers never should be overconfident at any point of a dive.

      I see my self at 19 again and see how I was 110% sure I was the best(or top 5%) diver in the world – fortunately I didn’t have an accident, but I’m sure that’s more luck than anything else.

      I’ll try to get Aniruddh to sort out the air consumption – because you are right no dive tank(as what I ever heard of) is filled to more than 300.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Mark

    I think the real guts of the issue is, a) why were they thinking of extending bottom time after “20-30” min 30 MSW maximum No Deco limit at 30M is 20 min. And b) your at 30 m with 150 bar. Seriously, as Bart Simpson would say “don’t have a cow” that is plenty. Why consider the risky cylinder swap? Maybe if he was at 50 bar with a safety stop to consider use alternative air source buddy breathing which I think is what Andy.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Mark I love your Bart Simpson quote! That is a first here on DIVE.in.

      The only reason I could come up with is that they might have used smaller tanks, but it make really no sense to me. Why they would switch instead of going up, is out of my knowledge – though Aniruddh is joining later to answer all the questions.

      And exciting the the NDL this much is not even possible with the most liberal dive computer.

      Alternate buddy breathing might have been a better solution, but this also one of the things we can learn from this. – Look for a simpler solution to the problem/issue.

      Thanks Mark!

  5. Ron

    I’m glad he made it out OK, but this is an abuse of the word “accident.”

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Ron,

      How come you see it as an abuse?

  6. ani

    Hi all,

    First of all thank you for taking the time to read my article. I genuinely hope you enjoyed reading it. Here are my responses to some of your questions
    1. David – I absolutely agree with your point about overconfidence, I had swapped tanks several times before and did not even consider the possibility that something may go wrong.
    2. Mark – though being at 150 bar is not an issue in itself, rate of consumption must be taken into account, and was the main reasoning behind swapping tanks. The initial 30 min were at a depth higher than 30m, I know it’s confusing when I mention envision me thirty meters deep, thirty seconds away from death” however the depth is not precise, nor even throughout the dive.
    3. ANDY – I agree, in hindsight it seems like a terrible decision, but as I point out in the article it wasn’t the first (and probably not the last) time I had attempted the move. As for the “barrel rolls” – meant more to set the scene as opposed to actual barrel rolls, but, you are correct I tend to exert more during my dives. However, I don’t think that in itself is a negative quality, it’s just how I was enjoying that particular dive on that particular day. Finally, you are correct, we start at around 250 bar, end at 75ish. I apologize for the confusion, though we decided on the switch at around 150, it wasn’t an immediate transfer. As for the “nearly double” may not have been arithmetically exactly double – however, it certainly did feel like it.
    4. RON – I am not sure what you mean by “abuse”. Would you consider a rally driver in a car crash to be abuse?

    Reply
  7. David Tombs

    Hi Ani,
    I think that this was a very useful article to write,and has raised valuable discussion. Writing this sort of thing is often not easy, and can leave you feeling exposed.
    There are few active divers who can escape some sort of incident in their careers, and in my view, we can learn from the experiences of others.
    Thank you again.

    Reply
  8. Mark

    Ahhhh! I seeeeee! Yeah makes more sense now, can I ask if you were using a computer?

    Just curious about the whole reverse profile approach, and if you experienced any I’ll effects following the dive?

    Cheers

    Mark

    Reply
  9. AmandaB

    Thank you for this article. My heart was in my mouth as I read it. As a very new diver -AOW 45 dives, I have not experienced any problems on a dive. Your incident has highlighted the risks of over confidence and has reminded me that it is not a problem to be cautious at all times. My husband, buddy, was gutted and embarassed when his higher use of air resulted in an early end to a recent dive, having read this article I am so pleased we did not try and extend our time in a similar way!

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your comment and welcome to the world of diving.
      First of all tell your husband that a higher air consumption is nothing to be embarrassed about – it happens to all of us due to a lot of different circumstances.
      Sometimes our troubles from land can make our air go faster and other time it’s just a bad air day. Plus men tend to use more air than woman, we can’t do much about that – just enjoy the time we have.

      Second, yes there really is no need for a swap like this. As I’m sure Ani would agree on now. If you really need to extend the dive go shallow and use your buddys alternate air source for a short time – remember to monitor the air as you’ll be two diver breathing on one tank.

  10. Michael Timm

    Wauw a story. Thanks for sharing Ani

    Reply
  11. Bruce Campbell

    A couple of observations: 1) it is very easy to become complacent, and unfortunately, complacency can lead to accidents; It is very easy to assume nothing can go wrong, but this scenario shows it can. 2) we assume that our bodies will act exactly the same way everytime we dive; that is an assumption contrary to fact. Hydration, sleep, prior exercise and many other factors can affect how our bodies react underwater; monitoring of one’s guages is essential as is a willingness to call the dive if one’s body is acting inconsistent with expectations. 3) swapping tanks was a risky action that could have gone even worse than it did. While it may be something we train for occassionally, it is not something that we do on a daily basis in a open water environment. I’m not saying that its never done, it just seems to me that if you are going to swap tanks it needs to be for a better reason than to extend the bottom time of a recreational dive.

    Reply
  12. Edward Twyman

    The frist lesson I was taught, is when reach the agreed air limit you surface no matter what!

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      It’s a good thing to know and keep in mind. Thanks for sharing Edward!

  13. Arun

    Gosh! I have just 20-odd dives behind me and this story was a reality check. I do tend to consume air faster — just can’t help it, and have been in a situation where two of us ran out of air and both had to share the dive leader’s air tank at the safety stop.

    Imagine this: dive leader uses my tank which has a little air; both of us who are running out of air use the diver leader’s air (using the main and buddy regulator). We are desperately counting the safety stop minutes. When the safety stop is done, there is such relief like I have never felt before. And we all have enough air to inflate our jackets for the final ascent.

    But changing tanks at the bottom? After this story, I am going to refuse if my leader ever offers that as an alternative. You are right: keep the #1 lesson in mind – dive ends when your air reaches 75 bar.

    Reply
    • David Tombs

      The turn around pressure can be considerably more depending in part on depth, or in an overhead environment. As in all diving, it has to be planned before-hand, good dive planning is a skill in itself.

    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Arun,
      Good air consumption comes with time and experience. Quick tips: http://www.dive.in/guide/managing-your-air-consumption-practical-tips

      It does not sound like the best ending of a dive. Always remember that a safety stop only is safety – it can always be skipped in case of an out or air emergency.

      And one of the most important things I can tell you is NEVER inflate your bcd on accent! You have to deflate when going up from the dive and the safety stop. If you inflate you’ll risk a rapid accent.

  14. Atin

    Ani, Great article and thanks for sharing! I had a similar experience in Kenya, overconfidence! Killed my dive time in half. Totally worth it though! I’ve since done about 50 odd dives and the truth is YOU LEARN WITH EVERY dive and every breath you take. As much as adequate training is important to dive, nothing beats experience. If I’m ever in the Mediterranean, which is definitely on my list, I’d love to dive with you and show you the ropes hahaha. Thanks for sharing. Btw barrel rolls are freakin awesome.

    Reply
  15. Jim

    @Andy- These seems to be more of an experience write-up, than a calculative learn-from article. Maybe take it for what it is? Not to be cynical or anything, just saying. Would love to read about some of your experiences. As a diver myself, I know we all have something scary, fascinating, and informative to write about. And we can all learn from each other.
    Thanks for sharing Ani. I love the confidence, a sign of an amateur diver, but I can’t say I was any different, if not worse. Hope you keep diving and looking forward to reading more from you. Thanks, Jim F. Mamba aka fatman.

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the comment and the shoulder pad for Ani. I think we all might have a bit to much confidence, especially as we started diving.

  16. Mick McAuliffe

    Recently I was diving with my son and ge had a tank valve issue and his gauge read 50 bar at 18m ten minutes into the dive, so I gave him my occy for 20 Min before ascending on his own regs. I feel a safer option than a gear exchange

    Reply
    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Mike,
      I Hope you and your son had a great dive anyway.
      It seems like the wise choice you made! The same solution I would go for. Although I might consider ending the dive instead of continuing for 20 minutes – But I’m a safety geek.
      Thanks for sharing!

  17. DR JAYADEV PANCHAWAGH

    Thanks for a nice and relevant article.
    I am a neurosurgeon and daily have to be part of potentially dangerous situations while operating.
    I personally think that as your experience grows, there is a serious possibility of overconfidence.
    The first surgical complication is most likely not during the first few surgeries that you perform but between your 50th and 100th surgeries.
    That is the time when there is a chance of overconfidence while being fairly low on experience.
    First of all…30 meters below the water is not the place to assess your flexibility or being ashamed of embarrassing yourself even if only in front of a trout.
    Secondly, all humans. …Navy seals or not …..are physically built the same ….give and take……they are prone to face similar dangers as us.
    What we have to learn from this story is that each one of us could think in similar way and are not immune to the possibility.
    First rule of complications in neurosurgery is to remember that anyone can cause it ….even the most experienced surgeon…. It cannot be different for diving.
    Second rule is that the complications are likely to happen in simpler surgeries than in difficult surgeries…..when you least expect it…and when you tend to be overconfident. Stick to the rules especially when you feel like breaking them as you may perceive the circumstances to be easy and under control.
    When in doubt it is better to back out as you can revisit the same site later.
    Don’t make it a do or die proposition and don’t lose a perspective.
    Diving is not for proving anything….either to yourself or to others. It’s for sheer enjoyment.
    Ask for help. If you are not able to wear the gear under water….stop, breath and unashamedly ask for help.
    The other extreme of overconfidence is feeling ashamed that due to your air finishing first….others will have to cut short the dive. I have seen this happening in overly apologetic people. They may tend not to report their air status in time. When sticking to rules, be unemotional and incisive.
    A good story to learn from.
    Thanks are sharing and I have to remember that it could happen to ANYONE.

    Reply

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