One Last Time

A number of years ago I met a fellow from the states while commercial fishing the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. He had a cabin in one of the protected bays and brought his family up to holiday regularly. We got to be friends and got along really well. He had been a Navy SEAL, and being an avid diver and photographer myself, we had lots in common. He and his kids (in their teens) asked lots of questions about what I was seeing underwater. I told them lots of stories, and backed it up with copies of video I had shot underwater. I could tell they loved the Ocean as much as I did.

About a year passed, and one day Bill told me he was going to start diving again. It had been 20 years since his last dive, and he had never been in cold water. His best friend got certified, and off they went for a few dives. I joined them for a dive one day at the cabin. When Bill hit the water panic set in. I dropped my camera, managed to calm him and haul him out of the water. Bill was OK, and told his buddy and I to do the dive. When we returned, I talked to Bill about what happened. I suggested he go back and take a "refresher course". This was tough to do. Bill was a larger-than-life guy, he did everything to the max, and after all, he was a SEAL.

Over the winter he took some instruction. In May he and his friend returned for a dive at the cabin. They did a deep dive off the wall out front. After surfacing, Bill didn't feel well, and laid down for awhile. Both his wife and friend were concerned, but Bill said he was OK and just needed some rest. Later that night it was apparent Bill needed more than rest. It was almost midnight by the time they had made their way by boat and car to the nearest hospital. Bill was put on 02 and treated for an air embolism. One tough guy. I talked to Bill, his friend, and wife about the incident. Not much was concluded, the dive seemed uneventful, no fast ascents etc. His wife told me that he had felt very calm when his symptoms were at their worst. Bill was checked out by a few doctors and given the OK.

I was reluctant to encourage him to dive, but later that year he asked if I would join he and his family at the cabin for a weekend. I felt obliged to join him and looked forward to a break from fishing for a couple of days. It was Friday, and I was fishing up the coast, pulling the last of my traps before heading for port. A Mayday came over the radio. A diving accident: location? - the cabin. I knew it was Bill. It sounded serious, and Coast Guard would give me no details. I headed for port.

Bill was transported by helicopter to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 49 years young. Later that week, in big seas off the Columbia River, we buried Bill at sea. I was damn near hysterical. I got some strange looks. I couldn't stop crying.

I hadn't spent all that much time with Bill. But he was a good friend, one of those few people that everyone should meet at least once. He was larger-than-life, and exactly why he died is still a mystery to me. There was a cause of death, but that isn't a why. One thing his friend told me still bothers me. He said that Bill was bringing up a trap from the bottom. I've never been able to go back there and see if there is a trap there. Carrying something like that up from 100+ feet could have contributed to an uncontrolled ascent. But Bill didn't die from an embolism. He died from drowning. He was conscious upon surfacing and managed to get to shore. His friend told me Bill sat on the rocks (half in the water) and was taking off his hood. A brief moment later Bill was face down in the water. Efforts to revive him did not succeed.

I still feel guilty about encouraging Bill to start diving again. I talked at length to his wife. She doesn't blame me for his death. And I know he acted on his own. But five years later, at times that feeling of guilt and responsibility rears it's ugly head - as does the vision of him sinking into the sea for one last time.

Randy H.

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