Struggling against a strong current Steve cuts short his dive and surfaces alone. Neither he or his buddy were equipped with emergency dive flags so they couldn’t see each other amongst the waves and worsening conditions. Suddenly Steve sees a motorboat bearing down on him. Without a signal flag the boat, which could have rescued him, is a deadly threat. Only his quick action of dumping air from his B.C. and going to the bottom saves him.
Meanwhile, only a few hundred yards away Steve’s buddy, James is desperately clinging to a buoy and trying to spot his friend. He can see boats not to far away but, without a flag or Safety Sausage, he has no way of gaining their attention.
Both divers are fairly experienced divers with hundreds of logged dives between them but they have made a number of errors due to complacency and lack of planning. Because their planed dive charter was cancelled due to bad weather they opted for a nearby shore dive that was unfamiliar to them simply because they had set aside the day for a dive and really didn’t want to cancel. They did not obtain local knowledge and, expecting an easy dive, decided against taking dive flags or other surface signal devices; after all it was going to be an easy dive. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately they had chosen to dive in an area that had unpredictable currents which was also close to heavy boat traffic. Without dive flags they were almost impossible to spot in the deteriorating weather and were in danger of being seriously injured.
In this instance luck was on James’ side. Three hours later, extremely cold and weary a fisherman happened to spot him clinging to the buoy and picked him up. The fisherman searched for Steve and alerted the coastguard. A full search was made involving various boats and an SAR helicopter yet no sign of Steve was ever found.
This scenario, which was based upon a true incident, highlights the fact that even experienced divers make mistakes and that, at times, they can be very costly. Steve and James should have made some effort to learn about the local diving conditions and weather. They should have made sure that they were visible to boat traffic by using dive flags and S.M.Bs. Once they found themselves in difficulties they should have been able to signal their distress with something like an extendable dive flag.
This tragic dive serves to reiterate certain aspects of dive safety that really cannot be ignored. All divers should gain local knowledge of the intended dive site, ascend with caution in areas where boat traffic is prevalent, check the weather, plan for the unexpected and always carry an emergency dive flag.