UK diver death-toll rose in 2018

helicopter by ian taylor
Helicopter by Ian Taylor


19 scuba divers died in the UK in the year to September, the highest death toll for 14 years, according to the latest annual Diving Incident Report from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC). The average number of fatalities over the previous 10 years had been 13.

Update: 10 of 16 UK divers died alone in 2021

BSAC gathers its data from incident report forms completed by its members as well as from the Coastguard, RNLI, Ministry of Defence, PADI EMEA and RoSPA. The new report is based on 251 incidents (including 36 overseas but involving BSAC divers).

Of the 19 fatalities, three were aged over 70, and the average age was 55.8, slightly older than in the previous year.

Six of the fatalities were BSAC members. Fifteen per cent of all deaths occurred after the diver had become unconscious while still under water. Two divers were shown to have had pre-existing medical conditions, which were also suspected in another five cases.

In five of the fatal incidents the divers were solo-diving, and in another six became separated from other divers. Four involved divers diving in a group of three or more.

Thought to be significant in this year’s report was that a diagnosis of immersion pulmonary oedema (IPO) was confirmed in two non-fatal incidents. Both divers survived by immediately leaving the water and attending hospital. A further 20 incidents in which IPO was suspected of being a factor were identified.

IPO, also known as “drowning from the inside”, can result from over-hydration and is the subject of an article on Divernet by Bob Cole. The Incident Report notes that the condition appears not be as rare as was at one time thought.

The report advises divers to be aware of IPO and to watch out for symptoms in themselves and others. These include breathing difficulties while submerged or at the surface, coughing, confusion, inability to carry out normal functions and belief that a regulator is not working properly.

If IPO is suspected the diver should leave the water as soon as it’s safe to do so, sit upright if conscious, take oxygen and seek medical advice.

Forty-five of the total 251 incidents involved proven cases of decompression illness (DCI). This figure was down on recent years, although the number of incidents involving rapid ascents remained comparable. However, the bulk of the 51 incidents in the “illness and injury” category are suspected to have been DCI cases, though this could not be confirmed.

Thirty per cent of proven DCI cases involved dives beyond 30m, 24% repeat diving, 22% rapid ascents, 13% missed decompression stops and 11% were within the limits of computers or tables. A decline in DCI incidents in recent years appeared to be levelling off, notes the report.

Among rapid-ascent incidents, 82% were the result of panic, 73% poor buoyancy control, 36% equipment problems and 27% delayed SMB problems. Another 27% of cases were attributed to out-of-air occurrences and 17% to weighting issues. The number of boating and surface incidents continued to fall.

A new feature of the report, analysis of rescue techniques employed in all reported incidents, indicated that providing an alternative air source proved successful in 85% of incidents, while a controlled buoyant lift technique worked in 78%. Where a casualty was unconscious and not breathing, CPR worked in 16% of cases, oxygen-enriched CPR in 18%  and use of a defibrillator in 30%.

“As has been stated for over 50 years in our annual report, most of the incidents reported within this document could have been avoided had those involved followed a few basic principles of safe diving practice,” point out the report compilers, BSAC Diving Safety & Incidents Advisors Clare Peddie and Jim Watson.

The full report including individual incident reports can be downloaded here.


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