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Posted by . on May 19, 2003 at 19:08:51:

In Reply to: Diver down at Catalina today posted by Cynde on May 17, 2003 at 16:23:55:

first hand dive accident report from rec.scuba

Diver Fatality: Catalina Island 17 May 2003

A diver died aboard a dive charter I was on this weekend. This has not
made the papers yet; if someone sees a newspaper article will you
please post it? I am curious about the 'official' new release. Note
that this posting is based on rumors, gossip, and on board chit-chat
of the passengers and crew, it is not the definitive report of the
events that occurred, the LA County Sheriff is conducting an
investigation and the coroner's report is still not out.

The Horizon charter boat left H&M landing Friday night and arrived at
the first dive site off Catalina Island. The site was Farnsworth Bank;
it is at the intersection of two imaginary lines, due south from Two
Harbors and a line west from Avalon. It's not an easy dive, but not
really hard. A seamount tops out at 55ft, and descends almost
wall-like to 160ft. No giant kelp to get tangled in, but there are
lots of sea palms and other algae. A rocky dive with lots of sea life.
Water temperature was 59F; I did not notice a significant thermocline.
Visibility was 20-30ft. A storm system recently went through and there
were swells as we were on the windward side of the island- a large
percentage of the passengers were puking over the side. There is a
small bit of surge and current, there were lots of small jellies near
the surface as well.

The gates opened up at ~0730PST, most people waited a bit to go in to
grab breakfast or to finish puking. Calculating backwards I estimate
the diver and her buddy went in around 0745PST, my buddy and I went in
around 0800PST. I did not hear about the following events until I
surfaced; most of it is based on what I heard from others on board.
The diver and her buddy were ascending; around 40ft the diver is in
panic state and is clawing at the buddy. (this is a very grey area)
The buddy surfaces and does not see the diver and calls for help
reporting a missing diver. The divemaster quickly put on his gear and
jumps in and within a few minutes finds the diver unconscious
underwater (without the regulator in her mouth) and brings her to the
surface. She is not breathing and CPR is started; she is still alive
as I saw vomit next to her later on (I am assuming it was hers). By
this time only a few sets of divers made it into the water (including
myself) and the captain blows the underwater signal/recall device on
the boat. My buddy and I were on the anchor line at 15ft doing our
safety stop and we could barely hear the sound (we did have hoods on).
When I get on board I see people working on her, among the passengers
there was a doctor and a nurse. However some passengers estimate that
her time without air was around 15 minutes (time from panic to CPR),
later on someone mentioned that she did not have a pulse.
Approximately 30 minutes from surfacing the US Coast Guard arrives,
fortuitously they were near by- we were diving on the uninhabited side
of island and I don't believe they are normally out near the dive
site. They board and take over emergency work. 10-15 minutes later we
start for Two Harbors, CPR work has been going on the entire time and
passengers report seeing adrenaline being administered. During transit
an LA County medical team boards, 1:15 hrs past the initial surfacing
we arrive at Two Harbors and she is taken ashore aboard a small harbor
patrol boat. We do not know the events surrounding the diver after
this point.

There was a USCG helicopter flying above us, I was told that she could
not be transferred to the helicopter (from the boat) as to do so would
stop CPR. After the diver was taken to shore we stayed in the areas
for a few hours, the sheriff wanted to interview people and collect
her belongings. At 1445PST we received word that she had died.

We do not know why she panicked, some hypotheses have been put
- She panicked when she saw/touched some jellyfishes near the surface.
Most of the jellies I saw were small, but I did see a 1ft+ jelly.
Ascending and while waiting on the anchor line for the safety stop I
felt a few sting me. They did not hurt a lot but it was extremely
startling. At any given time there were 3 or 4 visible jellies or
parts of jellies in front of me, it was rather disturbing.
- She vomited and took out her regulator. Unlikely but this could have
happened. The combination of seasickness and underwater surge could
make some people sick. I do not know her experience level but I am
guessing that she was beginner-intermediate, early- to mid-twenties
local law student.

What I find most disturbing is that some people said she had a dive
incident a year or two prior. She had a panic attack and had to be
airlifted out. If this is true she should not have been diving. She
should have stopped herself; the others should have stopped her. It is
a safety issue not only for her, but the divers around her.

I have to give a lot of credit to the divemaster who found her so
fast. Divers surface all around the boat, she could have been anywhere
with the current and depth. Luck played a part of course, she could
have sunk to the bottom. The operator deserves credit for handling
everything professionally. They aborted the trip and refunded the
charter for everyone at significant cost to them- they are a small
operator. I do assume they did not know of her past history.

I've never seen anything like this. In my short time of diving
everything has come out ok. I've seen some really stupid things, but
people just looked foolish. To me it reinforces the message that
diving is a sport with risks and dangers; we should know when to call
it a day and not go past our health and skill levels.

-Lance Smith

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