This diver was lucky that she realised how low her tank pressure was when she did. Much longer at that depth and she would likely have run out of air before she made it back to the surface.
At DAN, we receive fatality reports every year about divers who weren’t so lucky. Running out of air doesn’t automatically lead to death, but coupled with panic and a rapid ascent, which might be more common among inexperienced divers, the consequences can be grave.
An Australian study followed 1000 recreational scuba-dives and determined that, compared with divers who surfaced with plenty of air remaining, divers who surfaced low on air were more than 20 times more likely to be surprised by how little air they had left.
In other words, like the diver involved in this incident, they were simply not paying attention to their gauges.
Recently I took up underwater photography again after a long break. In the past few years I’d been diving a lot, but without a camera.
The first thing I rediscovered was how utterly distracting a camera can be when you find something you want to photograph. It is very easy to forget to keep an eye on your depth or air, and this is one reason why DAN resolutely suggests that recreational divers dive with a buddy.
In this incident, a buddy signalled the diver before she ran out of air, and accompanied her to the surface, able to render assistance if needed.
This diver had a close call, learned a valuable lesson and lived to dive another day. Staying calm during her ascent, staying near her buddy and inflating her BC at the surface were all essential elements in her incident being harmless.
Another aspect of this case is particularly relevant to modern divers. In the earlier days of underwater photography, when divers used rolls of 24- or 36-shot film, waterproof cameras were quite an investment, and it was far more common then for divers to be very experienced before buying their first camera.
Today, however, as this diver showed, even newly certified divers pick up the now relatively inexpensive hobby of underwater photography – before they have developed keen situational awareness through many dives.
This relative inexperience and the distraction a camera offers make for an unsafe combination under water.
So newer divers who want to take their cameras under water are advised to discuss the dive-plan with their buddies before entering the water, and to consider carefully the added risk of distraction.
DAN Europe is a not-for-profit worldwide organisation that provides emergency medical advice and assistance for underwater diving injuries. It also promotes diving safety through research, education, products and services