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?
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?
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
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”.
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!