THE SUMMER OF 1992 was a tragic one for the fledging tech-diving community. There were eight high-profile diving fatalities, including two on the Andrea Doria wreck and one at the Ginnie Springs cave system in Florida, along with a number of close calls that resulted in injury.
Divers Steve Gatto and Tom Packer in 1990, with china crockery and vases recovered from the Andrea Doria wreck.
Then that autumn there was a double fatality involving a father-and-son team on the unidentified German submarine, referred to as the U-Who (later identified as U869 by John Chatterton and Richie Kohler).
Many feared that these deaths would bring on government regulation and effectively shut down technical diving.
With a rising number of fatalities, Skin Diver magazine went on a crusade with a three-part editorial series in the last three months of 1992, calling for an end to deep diving and nitrox use, or at least a return to the closet.
Editor Bill Gleason in his October 1992 editorial Deep Diving / Nitrox Perspective, wrote: “Get back in the closet and give responsible divers the opportunity to close and lock the door on deep diving.”
The fact that some of these editorials confused the use of nitrox with deep diving shows the lack of information and understanding at the time regarding the technology. Nitrox is typically used as a bottom gas on relatively shallow dives (less than 40m), and by technical divers as a decompression gas following deep helium dives.
Meanwhile, the Cayman Water Sports Association issued a warning that the local chambers would not treat divers who had been bent while diving nitrox. Famed Skin Diver columnist ER Cross even took a stand with a column entitled Why I Won’t Use Nitrox.
Of course, at that point it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
In January 1993, aquaCorps held the first annual tech-diving conference, tek.93, in Orlando, Florida, again just before the DEMA show.
This brought together members of the technical, recreational, military and commercial diving communities for the purposes of education and information-sharing, as well as addressing the recent spate of diving accidents, and what was needed for the technical-diving community to move forward.
As a result of the conference a group of us including Billy Deans, Kevin Gurr and others put together the first set of community consensus standards or “best practices” for technical diving.
We published this as Blueprint for Survival 2.0 that June in aquaCorpsm #6 Computing. It was a set of 21 recommendations to improve technical-diving safety in the areas of training, gas-supply, gas-mix, decompression, equipment and operations, based on Sheck Exley’s original work on accident analysis Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival.
In that book, Exley developed a set of 10 principles or recommendations based on thorough analysis of cave-diving accidents, and it had helped to reduce cave-diving fatalities.