RICHARD ROLLED BACK into the warm waters of Indonesia’s Banda Sea and swam over to join his wife Florence. After exchanging signals, they descended together along the reef wall, heading for a patch of bright yellow seafans at 30m, where their guide had promised to show them pygmy seahorses.
The guide was already there below them, armed with his critter-stick and searching the fronds for the elusive little creatures. But, as Richard swam along the reef wall, gradually going deeper, he began to find it hard to breathe. It felt like he had to suck the air from his regulator.
Three or four breaths later, his regulator was giving him no air at all.
His first instinct was to check his air-integrated wrist-computer: no reading was displayed. He reached for his analogue back-up gauge and saw that the needle was pointing at zero.
Impossibly, he was out of air. He had nothing in his lungs and was feeling a desperate urge to breathe. He felt himself start to lose buoyancy and sink deeper.
He kicked hard and swam up towards Florence, slashing his hand across his throat urgently as he approached her and pointing at her octopus.
She immediately deployed it and handed it to him when he arrived. She held on to him and inflated her BC a little on sensing that he was pulling her down.
He took a couple of quick pulls on the regulator to fill his lungs, then a few long slow breaths to try to get himself under control.
He felt completely confused at what had happened, but through the fog in his brain a habit formed during his technical- diving training kicked in.
He tucked his left arm behind him and pushed the bottom of the cylinder up, simultaneously reaching behind his head with his right hand to check the status of his valve. This was a technique he had practised time and time again with both single and manifolded double cylinders.
His first instinct was to turn the valve handle backwards, that is, to open it, even though he expected it to be fully open.
He was surprised to find that, not only did the valve handle move when he wrapped his fingers around it and twisted, but it kept moving for quite a while until it locked.
His wrist computer still showed no air-supply reading, but his analogue gauge was now displaying 160 bar. He switched back to his own regulator and took a tentative breath: no problem.
He abandoned his initial emergency plan of aborting the dive, and he and Florence carried on down to look at the seahorses.
The emergency was over, but it had left Richard with plenty to think about.