Monday, March 17, 2008

Blue Print for Survival - Top Ten Ways Cave Divers Die!

The interesting thing about writing a blog is that one becomes aware of personal themes. As I write I find myself continually reverting to the concept of risk management. Sport diving is sold as a risk free endeavor that anyone can participate in... so safe you can allow your child to participate. Yet the statistics simply do not support this idea - accidents can and do happen.

As a deep diver people often assume that I like risky situations. The irony is that the opposite holds true - I am in fact totally risk averse. As a diver I actively avoid taking unnecessary risks. I am anal about planning, preferring to know and understand the risks that could kill me. Whilst I do not like risk, I do not avoid them and it is this conscious risk acceptance that I believe has been key to my success as a deep diver. it is this conscious acceptance of risks and their management that I believe every diver should incorporate into their diving.

The combination of training and experience is designed to enable you to identify and manage the most probable risks you will encounter underwater. These are risks that as a community we have regularly encountered. They are known and so we can do something to either eliminate the risk or succesfully manage your way through it.
After over two decades of technical diving, pioneers like Sheck Exley have established and proven the concepts and methods required to enhance (if not ensure) your safety underwater. In fact, it was a book by Sheck that formed the basis for the technical courses we know today. His analysis of accident statistics identified the patterns behind caving deaths and tragedy’s. making them visible and enabling conscious management there-of.

Sheck’s "Blue Print for Survival" identified ten elements that a cave diver needed to comply with in order to avoid the most common risks found in a cave:

- 1) THE GUIDELINE : In cave systems the most common cause of death was not using a continuous guideline from the entrance and not maintaining close proximity to that line.

- 2) AIR SUPPLY PLANNING : The number two reason for death was the inadequate provision of air/ gas. Gas planning should be based on at least the thirds rule and gas matching within the dive team.

- 3) TOO DEEP : The number three reason for fatalities was diving outside of individual depth tolerances, divers were going too deep, too soon and succumbing to amongst other things, narcosis.

- 4) PANIC : Coming in at number four was succumbing to panic. This can be avoided through effective training and continuous practice.

- 5) LIGHTS : Closely tied into most incidents was the inability to see (and so find your way out) which has led to the requirement of redundant lighting systems ( normally a powerful hand
held canister primary light with two stowed back up lights).

- 6) SCUBA : Many incidents could be traced to inappropriate equipment and the configuration there-of with divers diving with poorly serviced equipment and not ensuring full redundancy on life critical kit (every cave dive should be undertaken on at least a twin set with isolation manifold and two dv’s)

- 7) SILT : Yet another factor related to the ability to see. Here incidents could be attributed to the divers ability to reduce visibility through inadequate finning techniques that resulted in silt outs.

- 8) EMERGENCY PROCEDURES : In most incidents the divers had not practiced their emergency procedures which added another level of complexity to the situation that simply could not be controlled. Procedures such as buddy breathing and the ability to effectively communicate underwater were highlighted.

- 9) TECHNOLOGICAL EMERGENCIES : This factor talked to the divers ability to manage life threatening, predictable technological emergency’s underwater such as line entanglement and getting stuck. These are managed through practiced techniques such as the lost diver drills.

- 10) PHYSIOLOGICAL EMERGENCIE : The proactive management of physiological emergency’s (divers to be fit and proactively manage decompression risk, stress and narcosis)

These days all technical courses encompass every aspect of these basic principles. Indeed, it is not the norm for a qualified cave diver who follows these principles to die on a cave dive with most cave diving accidents and fatalities being attributed to sport divers who enter cave systems without training or appropriate equipment.
The unfortunate part of technical diving these days is that it as become too safe and as a community we are becoming too complacent. It is too easy for divers to apply the 'rules' on course and then ignore them thereafter. The problem is that every time they get away with it, they get bolder! As Nuno Gomes often says, there are two types of divers, old divers and bold divers. There are very, very few old bold divers.
The question you have to ask yourself as a diver is how you would like to die (because the only thing that can be guaranteed is that you will die, all you do not know is how and when) ? Do you want to be another statistic ...a diver who refused to listen and took shortcuts and so died ? Or would you rather be the diver who understood the risks and actively managed them ?
How often do you take shortcuts ?