Rough surf exit injury in Northern/Central California, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by Karl S. on July 09, 2003 at 09:26:48:

One of the local instructors, I believe, posted the following account about a serious scuba-related injury that occurred at the southern cove of the Carmel River State Beach at Carmel, California; also known as "Monastery Beach" due to the Roman Catholic monastery across the highway from it. It is instructive, particularly for those who have recently expressed an interest to visit Central and Northern California beaches for diving.

An Account of a Rescue at North Monastery, July 4th.

As many of you know, a group of us planned to dive Monastery during the 4th of July. The group consisted of Dave, Roy, Sabine, Siggi (Sabine's husband), Norm, my friend Mike (PADI divemaster), and my friend Tyler (beginner). We decided to meet at 8:30am on Friday at South Monastery. After evaluating the conditions at the South end, we decided that conditions were safe, even for some of our beginner participants. The wind was pretty steady, and the waves crashing were "advanced" in some sets, but we decided that we had enough experienced divers on hand that would be able to time out
the sets in order to crawl out safely. I also observed that the North end seemed pretty consistent with the wave sets, but again, I think that an advanced diver would have been able to time out the set in order to get out safely.

Since we had a group of eight, we split into 2 groups of 4, so one group could stay onshore with Sabine and Siggi's kids. Sabine, Siggi, Roy, and Norm had just entered the water when we started to hear screaming. The people onshore had a difficult time in locating the origin of the screams, but we soon spotted the diver in distress trying to pull his buddy out of the surf zone. Mike started running towards the victim, Dave informed the
ranger on duty (basically a trash guy with a radio), and I went to call 911.
When Mike got to the victim, he was still very close to the surf zone, and
his gear had not been stripped. He was purple in the face. Mike stripped
his gear, checked for a pulse (he had one), and performed rescue breathing.
I might add here that Mike had to kick off some Asian guy that was just
doing chest compressions for the hell of it (maybe he has watched too much
Baywatch?). The victim was moved out of the surf zone to dry land. During
this time, an ex-paramedic (and ex-divemaster) happened to be driving by,
and saw the increased activity on the beach. He stopped, and ran to the
scene. He took over, and performed rescue breathing and CPR. The victim
vomited, and moaned. In the meantime, I ran out to the road to wait for the
rescue team. I flagged them down, gave them a brief description of the
scene,and directed them to where the victim was located. The rescue team
worked on the victim, administering O2, assisted breathing, and even
defibrillating the victim. They probably worked on him for a good
10-15minutes before moving him for transport.

From the buddy (and a subsequent conversation with the ranger), we got the
following information: The buddy is a divemaster, with more experience than
the victim (this was the victim's first time at Monastery. I do not know how
many dives he had previously performed). The buddy and the victim only knew
each other from work. Their dive consisted of the buddy diving down to
160ft and the victim diving down to 140ft. From the equipment, all
necessary safety stops were performed. When the buddy and victim surfaced,
the victim had 500PSI left. The buddy suggested to snorkel until they got
to the surf zone. The buddy then instructed the victim to place the
regulator in his mouth, and crawl out. The victim placed the reg in his
mouth, but decided to stand. The victim got knocked over by a wave, and was
pretty much tossed around in the surf zone. Both the victim and buddy were
in their 40's and overweight.

On the 4th: Even with the circumstances, we did make the decision to dive.
4 stayed at South Monastery, and 4 went to Breakwater. All dives were
enjoyable and safe. After the dives, we decided to call the hospital to
find out more information. We could not obtain any info.

The next day, on the 5th: As we were filling our tanks at the local dive
shop, the Buddy from the previous day walked in. He was fixing a dive
computer problem. We asked about his buddy (the victim), and he indicated
that he was in a coma. The buddy indicated that he was diving, and was seen
later at the Breakwater diving alone.

Update: On Monday, Mike called and talked with the Ranger that handled the
call. He said the victim was in a coma in ICU, had been breathing with 13
respirations per minute, but is currently on 6 breaths per minute and
breathing on his own sometimes. However, he is showing fetal responses such
as suckling, and gripping hand motions. He did not show signs of a heart
attack or embolism.

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE: I think we all have a different
perspective of the situation and what we learned. I do believe that without
the expertise of the divers in our group, the victim would have probably
been in worse shape, maybe even dead. But for the most part, some of the
things that I witnessed were the following:

1. It is critical to get the victim out of the surf zone. Clearing a clear
airway or performing any type of rescue operation just becomes more

2. Stripping the victim's gear not only helps you to perform the rescue,
but also saves time when the paramedics arrive to administer their care.

3. Hearing calls for help is hard, especially when you are on the other
side of a beach. Scanning not only the conditions of the area that you are
in, but other areas as well, may help in the location of a situation. Stay
on alert, and be ready to respond.

4. Always have a cell phone handy. Know the location of the cell phone.
Have it on the beach, NOT in your car. SAME FOR A POCKET MASK or any other
type of First-Aid.

5. Having someone wait for the paramedics at the road and directing them to
the location can be critical, and can save time and confusion.

6. Running on sand is DIFFICULT. It is MORE THAN DIFFICULT. If you are
trained in Rescue, you should make an effort to review the skills and stay
in shape.

7. Monastery can be a great place to dive, but you MUST take precautions,
and assess the situation for the least experienced diver in your group.
This goes for any dive site.

8. It may also help to assess a rescue situation: if you are diving with a
few people, and you are not comfortable dragging someone out of a steep
beach, or peforming CPR, you may not want to dive there. You never know
what may happen, and you do not want to put yourself or others at risk if
you are in a rescue situation.

Although this situation was grave, I believe we handled it to the best of
our ability, and that we responded quickly and thoroughly. I commend Steve,
his program, and all the instructors that keep us safe, emphasize safety,
and help us practice in making safe decisions in our diving practices.

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