July 1, 2011
After returning from a deployment to Iraq, I was looking forward to getting back into scuba diving. On this particular weekend, a friend from my company and I planned a dive at a local scuba park at a lake. We arrived at the park, got a map of the dive area and decided to try and find a sunken sailboat that was located just off of one of the dive platforms.
As we prepped our gear, we talked out the dive. We decided my friend would lead since he had been to the park before and I was unfamiliar with the site. We also discussed different hand signals and what to do in case of an emergency. We then performed our buddy checks and got into the water.
From the dive platform, we followed the marker down to the sunken sailboat. Visibility was about five feet, but I didn’t think much of it because I’d dived in worse conditions. After we checked out the sailboat, we headed back to the platform to continue to the next marker. I was still following my buddy when I started to experience a spinning sensation.
I began talking myself into staying calm, but when the feeling didn’t subside, I had to concentrate on not panicking. I made the decision to grab onto my buddy and tell him to ascend. Normally, I would have stayed underwater to get things under control. However, I was 70 feet below the surface and well aware that if I did lose control, things could go bad very quickly. Fortunately, my buddy wasn’t suffering from the same effects and was able to lead me back to the surface.
I wasn’t sure what caused this spinning sensation that wouldn’t subside, but I didn’t have the telltale “drunk” feeling associated with nitrogen narcosis. In the past, I’d been on dives as deep as 95 feet without any issue. After discussing it with some other divers, I realized I’d become disoriented because I lost visual reference with the bottom of the lake. Instead of keeping the bottom in sight, I was watching my buddy.
I attribute two things for the successful outcome of this incident. First, I followed the “buddy rule.” My dive partner was able to get me to the surface while I concentrated on staying calm. Second, and most important, was my training. I was able to recognize something was wrong and the potential danger of it. Our training on hand signals also allowed us to speak the same language underwater.
For some, training is nothing more than a check-the-block activity. However, when you put in the time and effort to do it right, it can save your life.