There is a WCB film called "It Happened Before", dealing with accidents. The point of the film is that nobody feels an accident can happen to them. Call it a feeling of immortality, call it confidence, call it whatever you want. It is not a healthy approach to living - or diving. We are all human. We are all able to die if the circumstances are right.

My incident occurred on a nice dive on the HCMS Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan is a Canadian Destroyer which was sunk to provide an artificial reef in the Pacific Northwest. During the dive, I was quite relaxed. The fellow I was diving with was doing quite well. I knew that he was not as experienced or as comfortable as I was in the water, and I was exceedingly pleased with the fact that he did not have any misadventure while we were on the wreck. I like the Saskatchewan and didn't want the dive to go amiss.

At 1000 PSI, he informed me of his air pressure. OK. We started our ascent as planned. In about 70 feet, my buddy approached me, and showed me his pressure again. It was now 750. I gave him the OK, and we continued our ascent. At 55 to 60 feet I waved at some other divers in our group. They returned the waving, and we went on up. Again, my buddy grabbed me and shook me, and showed me his gauge. Still 750 PSI. I was annoyed by his preoccupation with his gauge, until I looked at him. He had placed his alternate second stage into his mouth in place of his primary. I thought to myself " the only reason a guy would be so bloody upset about 750 PSI, and the only reason he would change regs. is that he is not breathing!" I looked into his eyes and saw that they were huge. He was not breathing. That is the problem. "No worries", thought I, and I gave him my regulator. He breathed a big sigh of relief.

I reached over to get my alternate second stage unhooked from my BCD. The hose fell behind me. I didn't want to shuffle around, and pull the reg. out of my buddy's mouth, so I tried to get him to help me out. I tried to get his attention, but he was simply staring at his gauge pack, and not responding. By now, I wanted to breath. Badly. I reached out to get my regulator back from his mouth. I expected that he would see the situation, allow me to get a couple of breaths, and then either get the alternate for himself, or for me. Nope. I got my hand around the second stage, tugged lightly, and BAM! Suddenly my buddy was flailing around, trying to keep me from "his" air supply. He knocked my mask off. I grabbed it as it left my head. I pressed the mask against my face, and prepared to clear it. Just then, I thought "look, even if I get the mask cleared, I will have no air, I will not be able to breath. Further, this guy is panicking. There is no indication that he is going to settle down. There is no way that he will survive if I drown. It is time for me to leave." So I did.

I finned for the surface as quickly as I could, dropping air from my suit and my lungs all the way out. Somewhere in the ascent, I found my regulator, breathed quickly in and out. I hit the surface. One of the divers on the boat gave the OK. I said "Not OK. Buddy out of air on the line. Going back down." I squared away my mask, and started back down the line. Others were suiting up and dropping in. As I descended, I saw the buddy on the line with another diver. He was OK. He had air and would live.

They talk in the Rescue courses of passive and active panic. They indicate that you will be surprised by the change if someone who is passively panicked becomes actively panicked. They cannot describe just how surprised you are. Personally, I don't recommend going out and trying it just to see.

Discussing the incident with my buddy, he didn't remember anything past getting my regulator, and assumed that I got the alternate OK. He was pissed at first, thinking that I had simply abandoned him. Then he came to realize that this was not the case. I think most of the other divers were supportive of my plight, although no one spoke publicly about it. One diver made a point of criticizing my buddy for "overbreathing" his regulator, showing that ignorance and volume are often combined. Basically, I was quite taken by how quiet everything got. I stopped diving for the day, while my buddy went on to do another dive in the afternoon.

When I got home I had some tingling in my hands. I ended up spending the night in a bed at Vancouver General Hospital on oxygen and saline. No DCS, but they wanted to make sure. I felt bad, as the hospital staff were really concerned for a while. I was out of the water until I could get checked out by the hyperbaric chamber doctor a couple of weeks later.

Through most of my ascent, I couldn't help but feel what a right bastard I was. I know that I had to do what I did, and that if the buddy inhaled water, he would have become unconscious, and then could have been rescued. I also know that his wife, who was waiting on shore, would not have understood. I wonder what I could have done differently? Well, that’s easy. I could have given him the alternate. But that is too easy an answer.

How did the accident affect me? Well, in terms of the water, I found that cognitively the incident was in the past. Each dive after that was not an issue. Realistically, however, I know that I was aware that it could happen again. I know that I was not as comfortable in some situations as I had been previously, though that seems to have rectified itself after a few months. I bought a longer alternate second stage hose, to keep drowning divers at bay.

Personally? Well, I had some things I wanted to do. They had a variety of moral (or social, perhaps ethical, I don't know...) considerations, but after the incident, I decided that moral or not, I may not get another chance. I determined that if I had died, I may have "missed out" on a few things, so I decided that I would do them in spite of how appropriate or inappropriate I felt they were. What things? That is my business. Sufficient to say, the emphasis is on living in the present.

Brad H.

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