Accidents are everywhere in life. They just hide away until someone comes along and makes them happen!
So it is with Scuba. Other than being attacked by a shark, or some other nasty sea creature, there are few 'real' accidents in scuba.
Most of the mishaps are as a direct result of lack of concentration, over-confidence, or sheer negligence.
Deaths are relatively uncommon, but they do happen in dive areas the world over. Some are unique, but many have things in common. Most of the deaths could have been prevented - as with most unfortunate accidents!
One of the statistics to emerge upon investigating dive deaths is the fact that 50% of the recorded deaths were to divers with less than 20 dives!
This convenient ‘statistic’ hides the basic fact that 50% of the deaths were to divers of some experience (more than 20 dives to their name.)
Unfortunately we do not have a numerical input for the 50%. Was it for a fewer or greater number of each category? No matter, the basic fact to be borne in mind is that serious injury or even death can happen to any diver.
Statistics equating scuba deaths with driving or other accidents resulting in death, are pointless and prove nothing - far better to take note of the insurance companies, who put diving in the top four or seven most dangerous sports/pastimes*.
To emphasize, it is a matter of record that there were 150 dive related deaths in the USA in year 2009 - that’s three deaths from the sport each week in the US alone!
In the UK - year 2010 - where arguably there is less scuba activity per head of population than in the US, there were 264 notified 'dive incidents' of which 98 were decompression incidents, and 17 ended in deaths!
What then, the causes of these dive deaths? There is rarely a single determining factor that actually that causes the death.
More often than not, there are multiple factors - interwoven and intrinsically linked - which together turn an ‘incident’ into a catastrophic death! This is borne out by the well-respected Director of Research at ‘DAN’ – Dr Petar Denoble.
"Whilst each accident may be different and some occur in an instant, most can be represented as a multiple chain of events that lead to a deadly outcome. Removing any link from that chain may change the outcome."
If we consider previous health conditions which are not ‘directly’ connected with the dive, research shows a large proportion of deaths are to those suffering a poor health pre-condition – which in normal circumstances, are somewhat controllable or at least not subject to intense medical attention.
These include lifestyle complaints such as obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease. Even lesser complaints such as the common cold can also take on a new mantle in dive circumstances.
Diving and a heart attack is possibly the health issue which recreational scuba divers should be most concerned about. You might expect a decompression accident or embolism to be the highest risk of mortality for divers.
In fact, Divers Alert Network (DAN) data suggest that cardiovascular disease is the cause of 15% of scuba fatalities. CVD includes significant medical health problems such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
Elevated cholesterol levels, age (over 40), and smoking are attributed to the most common risk factors. In addition to taking frequent medical evaluations, other risk reducing steps include regular exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet and avoiding refined sugar and tobacco.
This is a wide range of potential problems which can give rise to extreme distress arising from a too-quick ascent – or descent; insufficient air supply, or not being able to gauge what is actually available for reasons such as panic. This then leads to rapid ascent which has been cited as a major contributory factor resulting in the deaths investigated.
Events which act as the trigger can be attributed to poor experience, or even super-confidence in one’s ability. What that basically means is diving beyond your limit in varying situations and at many different skill or experience levels.
On descent, gas in the body cavities compresses - upon descent it expands. In extreme cases of rapid descent or ascent, this can cause tissue damage.
In ideal life, and in proper circumstances, the failure of dive equipment is rarely an issue – other than the use of old or poorly-maintained dive gear. What is normally the case is that the diver is not fully aware of, or comfortably confident, in the use of the gear.
Situations can arise that start a chain of events leading to a stressed or panic reaction. Comfort and familiarity with all items of equipment is of paramount importance, and you should be 'at one' with your dive gear.
Simply swimming on the surface of pool or sea, is a pastime enjoyed by many, and providing the ‘doer’ is a reasonable swimmer and keeps within the confines of their own abilities, it is generally accepted as being both pleasurable and safe. Though of course, accident do happen.
Once you submerse your body under water, you are not simply ‘swimming underwater’. You are in an environment for which you and your body are not made. The ‘power’ of water is not realized by most. For instance, those who commit suicide by jumping into water from high bridges, normally die from ‘impact’ injuries.
Submersing the body in water brings about many physical and mental changes - even to a person having a healthy body, and is experienced in all aspects of diving, and wearing the very best of equipment.
No available equipment can fully negate the effects of intense pressure. All it can do is make you feel reasonably comfortable with the pleasures of going down in the deep blue sea.
Whatever your diving abilities and experience - as with driving - accidents can and do happen. Accidents do not pick and choose. Everyone is up for grabs.
Glib statistics can prove or disprove anything, but an estimate worth taking note of, is the ‘fact’ that there is a diving death per every 200,000 dives. That does not mean that you have 200,000 lives.
Some will die on their first or second dive whilst others and their fellow divers will clock up maybe a few thousand!
Statistics prove that the risk is spread quite evenly between experienced and non-experienced divers. There is likelihood, that the incidents that happen to experienced divers, are potentially more life-threatening, simply because man will be man, and want to go that step further than before!