EDITOR’S NOTE: We great appreciate Mike Ange of Seaduction for sharing this compelling article and video that will have you gasping for air, even though you know the outcome.
Article and photo By Michael Ange
Over the last decade I have received a number of video segments from individuals hoping to convince me that their video was truly of a near death experience or an actual fatality caught on film. Most were great candidates for Diving’s Funniest Videos, like the one where I could actually hear the divers over an open Mike dubbing their plans for the next “scene” in the voice over. Likely an accident but who knows. So it was a rare find to receive a video link of an actual near death experience filmed by a running helmet cam on a very experienced recreational diver who nearly never completed a trust me advanced wreck penetration dive. In fact, so rare that it has led me to vary from my format for the first time in a decade and allow the diver to tell it in his own words. The video segment is attached below and below that is the divers own narrative. The name has been changed to protect the identity of the contributor per his request. I suggest watching the clip first as it will bring more meaning to his words – especially the screams heard through the regulator as he bordered on the very edge of panic.
The Story In the Diver’s Own Words
Excerpted from an email sent to the Mike Ange . . .
“I am happy to share my experience in case it can knock some sense into someone like me that knows better but ignores the warning signs.
Here is a video captured from my mask camera that shows the worst of my incident in which I got lost in the shipwreck. The video stops when I hit my head on the roof of the room I was trapped in before I found my way out. It took me a while to watch the whole thing because in two places you can hear me scream in my regulator.
At first I was embarrassed to talk about it. I knew better, I knew my limits, I ignored it all against my better judgment. Now I feel comfortable sharing what happened in case it might stop someone from having the same near death experience.
Whenever I have read scuba dive column detailing an accident in a post mortem it is easy to see the glaring warnings that go by like a flashing road sign. In my case I ignored them and put myself in a situation that was above my skill level and equipment for a penetration dive.
During a great dive in wonderful conditions on the SHIPWRECK we started talking about our second dive on the ship. A group of us talked about doing a slight swim through penetration dive through some large openings. My buddy and I opted in and I started gearing up for the upcoming dive. I turned out to the be the last one in the water so once I cleared “OK” upon entering the water I raced to catch up to my buddy who was #4 on a group of 5 about to penetrate the wreck. Being the trailing #5 diver I formed up and followed my buddy along one of the ship walkway at 100 feet. When I reached the door I saw daylight on the other side of the ship and thought this was a bit more than a swim through but entered anyway without lights.
I later learned after the dive that my buddy had formed up on an entirely different group, a group of three that had no idea who we were and that we were following them.
When I entered I quickly knew that something was wrong when I saw the group descend down a stair case, seeing bright sunlight ahead and silted enter way behind me I pressed forward in total darkness thinking I would find a clear path out.
I found myself in a room with only portholes out, no path to swim out. I was stuck in a silted dark room with a silted exit route and as panic began to set in I started burning through my precise air at an accelerated rate at 100 feet.
This is the point in which my fate was in the balance. Panic was starting to set in and I began to see my life flash before my eyes. Thoughts of my family, thoughts of how I was about to learn how painful drowning is, thoughts of how my death would tarnish ********references deleted to protect the identity of the diver******, all while flashes from a small blue LED light from my camera equipped mask reminding me that the camera was rolling would be part of the accident investigation.
The best way I can describe the feeling is that it is like when you have a near miss car accident, only this feeling lasted over five minutes.
Then something clicked that saved my life – in the waterfall of negative thoughts I yelled back. “Shut the fuck up!” “You know what to do, you have trained for this, you need to solve this problem right now or you are going to die.” I told myself to take inventory of the situation, check your air, relax, let the silt settle, preserve your night vision by not looking at the bright light coming in from the port holes. I charged up the glow in the dark element of my gauges and then started to settle down. Somewhere in this time line my camera stopped, the stop button must have been pushed when I hit my head.
As a laid back and started to settle a square glint of a doorway appeared. I slowly peered out the door and saw a glint of a hallway. Knowing the hallways were safe from overhanging wires and ducts I headed into the darkness praying not to find any resistance. As I traveled down the hallway I found my environment getting brighter. I made it to the end of the hallway and found an entry that felt as big as the Grand Canyon. I swam for it and was free. Free, but alone – where was my buddy?
I was very low on air but my fear shifted to my buddy, I was worried that he had a similar fate and maybe he was still trying to get out of his.
I went to an ascent line at 60 feet and looked for bubbles and looked for the group that we mistakenly followed into the wreck. I planned to suck the tank dry and wait for him. My ascent from 100 to 60 was pretty fast and my computer was indicating that I needed to burn off some more gas. Once the deco flag went away from my computer I ascended to 15 feet and planned to burn off whatever I had left while I watched for my buddy. When I dropped below 500 psi I surfaced and found I was the first diver back.
Not knowing if an emergency was occurring I let the Captain know that I was #5 of a group of 5 that broke off a penetration dive and I wanted to look for the group. I grabbed my snorkel and fins and watched for the group to emerge from the wreck. After 5 minutes I saw the 4 person group emerge from the bubbles and surface.
When I met my buddy on the boat he was surprised to see me but unaware that I had left the group. When I spoke with the lead three of the group they had no idea who I was and that my buddy and I were following them.
For days I would shudder whenever the thoughts of what could of happened settled in my head. The mistakes and ignored cues are almost too many to count but I did learn a huge lesson from this dive. One that I am very fortunate to have survived.
I wish to remain anonymous but you are welcome to share this story if it helps keep someone from making the same mistakes I made.”
It is tempting to throw the diver under the bus here and attack his judgment, but after talking to him I can assure you there is nothing anyone could say that he has not already said to himself. Besides he did nothing more than thousands of divers do every year around the globe. Go to virtually any resort with a wreck nearby and the divemasters will with a wink and nod either let you do a “simple swim through” or even take you there themselves. And thousand of divers every year accept the offer – some fatally, in spite of deficiencies in training, improper equipment and a host of other contra-indicators. Therefore I caution those of you diving with glass tanks to throw no stones. As for the analysis, it seems to me that the diver’s self analysis is all that needs to be said, so I will simply close with a list of lessons learned.
Lessons for Survival
- Get trained for any specialty activity you plan to participate in. Accident statistics show that nearly 62% of all diving fatalities occur to divers who are not trained for the activity they are completing. Entering an overhead environment tops the list of these activities.
- Never – ever enter an overhead environment without a guideline to open water, proper equipment and of course proper training.
- Be properly equipped for the dive you are completing. One of the fun challenges of more advanced diving is selecting and orienting yourself to the proper gear.
- Stay with your dive buddy – but only if he exhibits no suicidal tendencies. If your buddy is putting your safety at significant risk, signal him and terminate the dive.
- Never do a trust me dive – take responsibility for your own safety and dive within your own personal limits.
- It is a horrible thing to be forced to face your impending death and to know that it was your own poor judgment that would be your cause of death. The pain this inflicts upon a family adds significantly to the tragedy and to the hopelessness felt by the victim of his own poor judgment.
Finally, we offer our sincere thanks to the contributor for his selflessness in sharing this video so that others might avoid the same fate. In spite of his thoughts to the contrary, I can tell you that his participation in the accident analysis process coupled with his own insight into the accident certainly indicates that he is ready to enter the ranks of technical diving. I spend countless hours attempting, with far too little success, to convince tech diving students and even technical instructors to adopt the attitudes he has so keenly displayed about our sport and our need for self assessment. Should he ever decide that he is ready to enter technical diving, it would be my pleasure to train him.
Diver Down: Dive Accidents, Close Calls and How You Can Avoid Them
Each Diver Down case presented on Seaduction.com is written by the author of “Lessons for Life” the #1 column at SCUBA Diving Magazine from 2001-2009. Each case is based on a real incident that has been thoroughly investigated through official sources and the accounts of participants and witnesses. Names and some minor details have been changed to protect victims and their families.