When tragedy strikes – Cave Diving Accident

When tragedy strikes – Cave Diving Accident

Last summer, tragedy struck the diving community in Italy. A few miles south of Naples, four divers drowned in the Grotto Rosso cave.

The cave, famous for its dark red walls, a phenomenon caused by bacterial growth, is one of the most popular dive sites on the Italian west coast and sees hundreds of divers every year. The cave is generally considered an easy cave dive, and quite safe.

So what happened?

Looking up into the light from a cave dive

Sergey Popov V

According to one of the survivors, Marco Sebastini, an owner of a dive school in Rome, the group of eight divers entered the cave no problem, but when trying to get back out, they found that their fins had kicked up the silty bottom of the cave, and visibility was near none.

This caused panic to strike, and the group ended up swimming into the wrong tunnel, and instead of making their way out, they took another tunnel, a dead end. Four of the divers managed to find their way back out, but the remaining four were later found dead in the tunnel.

This article is in no way meant as a way of second-guessing the choices made by the divers in the situation, as all situations are different, and none of us know how we’ll respond. However, it is important for us to learn what we can from all dive accidents.

So what can we learn from this?

Never dive a cave unless you have appropriate training and experience.

So far, not much has been communicated regarding the experience and training levels of the divers. Nonetheless, whenever we dive, we should always ask ourselves the same question:  “do I have the training and experience necessary to do this dive safely?”

When cave diving, always bring a line reel, attached at the entrance

If visibility should suddenly drop, or the divers lose their way, the line acts as a sort of Hanzel and Gretel track, allowing divers to backtrack along it to the entrance.

Watch your fins

Scuba Divers In Cave

Takashi Usui

Typically, caves have good visibility, as they are less susceptible to wind and currents. However, bottoms are often silty, and the walls can have algae or other growths on them. Meaning that finning can inadvertently kick up a flurry of material, making the visibility go from almost endless to blinding in seconds.

The flutter kick, the mainstay of many divers, is particularly bad. If you want to dive caves, you should master the cave diver kick, also known as the “bent knee frog kick”.

Don’t panic

Diver exploring an underwater cave. Great barrier reef, australia

Sebastien Burel

Regardless of the situation, panic always makes it worse, especially underwater. Panic causes us to lose focus of our priorities inhibits our ability to think rationally. It makes us breathe faster and deeper, and causes fast uncontrolled movements.

Accidents are thankfully very rare in diving, but they can always happen. As divers, we need to accept that there are certain risks that we assume when diving. But through training, experience, and planning, we can minimize the risks. If nothing else, we can take that from tragedies such as the one in Italy last summer.

Our thoughts and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the divers who lost their lives in this tragedy.

Have you ever done cave diving with or without training? Leave a comment below!

About The Author

Thomas Grønfeldt Senger

Thomas is a Naui Instructor and has been diving in Australia, France, Egypt, Sweden, Indonesia, Iceland, and numerous other locations around the world.


  1. Hatya Salmic

    I get claustrophobic in elevators. I would never start cave diving and never ever go in to a cave without proper training. sad story. Hope someone can learn form it.

    • Thomas

      I think – I hope – people will. Though often, the cause of tragedy isn’t the extreme, but rather the mundane: things we’re all taught during basic training, but that slips the mind from time to time. I myself do cave dive, and have felt the occasional twang of claustrophobia. But this just motivates me to focus even more on the basics of staying safe, in caves or outside them. Hopefully, this tragedy will remind others of the same.

  2. Carlotta

    Cave diving must be done only with the proper cave diving training as there are different equipment and rules to be used! The training teach how to set up lines. arrows and cookies and most important teaches how to exit the caves safely including cases of no visibility due to sediments and silts. Very sorry about this accident but it was very foolish of these divers to enter the caves without proper training and equipment. If done properly, cave diving is one of the most safe forms of scuba diving

  3. kim otto

    Is it just proper training that is required? It seems not. In such a relatively large group (8 divers), if one diver panics, then the dive environment becomes disturbed for all divers causing potential havoc. I don’t know the details and logistics of the dive, but in an enclosed space, it seems that numbers should be limited.

  4. Carlotta

    That is connected to proper training. The maximum number of divers for a team in cave diving is 3.

    • Torben Lonne

      You are absolutely right. And none of them had proper cave training!

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