A Response to BBC Article “The Dive That Crushed My Spine”

Today I read an article on BBC, that is clearly written by non-divers, talking about horrible divers, and making scuba diving seem like an incredibly dangerous activity. I feel compelled to respond to this, and point out the many many gross errors these so called “experienced instructors” managed to pull of in a single dive.

Please read the actual story HERE first, so that you know what I am talking about. I think you will also see how dumb it is.

How am I qualified to comment on the science, physiology and so-on of scuba diving? Well although I am a PADI Divemaster with over 1000 dives from all over the world, the mistakes these “experienced instructors” made were even taught to my girlfriend, who just took her beginners course for diving last week, and has 4 dives.

She was even appalled and able to ask common sense questions about this flawed story, with her next-to-none experience. So ya, any diver with any basic training could tear this story apart.

To put that in perspective she has 4 ocean dives, and one beginning course, Open Water Diver. A dive instructor needs hundreds of practice dives, plus these course: Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Deep Speciality, EFR, Rescue Diver, Divemaster and then instructor.

Needless to say this is a ton of education and training, and the things these “4 experienced instructors” did were inexcusable, even at the lowest of levels. (pun intended).

Let me get started, and point out how completely these people were in the wrong.

1. The guide let them run out of air?

This is a screed shot of the article where they are claiming that even with their planning, they ran out of air. In my circles, people would say thats nearly impossible. How does four instructors run out of air? Even if only the guide was an instructor, how can he let anyone run out of air? Do they not have gauges? Did their tanks burst? How is it possible to fail at the one thing that keeps you breathing/alive, by simply looking at a gauge?

Ok I have heard of incompetent divemasters/instructors/guides assuming someone had good air consumption and never checked, and then they nearly ran out of air. But that’s not too big of a deal even, as they can just buddy breath with the guide, and ascend together. Still a bad guide, but not unheard of. I’ve been around a few incompetent and inattentive guides, so that wouldn’t be too shocking.

But two people running out of air, and only “halfway through their session”? How? Ok fine, maybe BBC misspoke and these clients were infact NOT “experienced instructors”, and maybe the guide really was an idiot. No way would 2 instructors completely run out of air, and a third instructor not be aware of their consumption… But let me read a little more.

On a side note, 40m meters is NOT pushing the limits if you are a instructor. Not at all. As long as you know your depth times and charts, 40m is doable by recreational divers, from a PADI Advanced Open Water course and up. An instructor would certainly have plenty of experience at this level, unless he had taken a fake “zero to hero” course somewhere.

This little sentence makes everything a little more dodgy seeming, but it makes me think of two possibilities:

  1. BBC misspoke, and infact the clients were not instructors. Are they writing this, or is this Rich Osborn guy writing it?
  2. If it’s BBC writing this article and misspoke, I give them a pass, it happens. If its Rich, then he is lying to take off some of the blame, by claiming his clients were super experienced, making this all seem like some fluke of nature.
  3. If it IS Rich writing this article, and he is NOT lying, then it’s possible that he did not check the client’s dive cards/certifications to verify. He took them at their word that they were pros?

Anyways, whatever. I’ve made my point. The guide/instructor definitely messed up, not asking the clients their air level, and the clients also messed up letting it happen by not checking their own air. Super fishy. (pun NOT intended)

 

2. Wait, then everyone ran out of air??

The screen shot above, is what happened after 2 of the 4 divers ran out of air (which is weird enough). In point one I had given the instructor/guide the benefit of the doubt, by saying maybe he was just negligent not checking air levels of his clients, and maybe it was because he assumed they were very experienced (or experienced enough to monitor their own air).

But now I see I was wrong. In no case ever should a guide ever even get close to running out of air. There is no excuse for it, unless maybe he’s trying to rescue someone and knows they are running out. This isn’t the case here. Just in this once screen shot of 2 short sentences, there are so many problems now. Let me point them out.

1. Yes they ran out of air, but how and why? What I am really asking is, how do you run out of air when still at 40 meters, or for the last 2 divers, 30 meters? This is a huge question that all divers are also asking, but let me explain for you non-divers. This article claims they had a good dive plan, for a dive up to 40 meters.

A good/correct dive plan/profile for a regular recreational dive, means that you descend immediately to your deepest depth planned first, stay no longer than the charts or dive computer allows, then ascend slowly. In other words if they were going for 40m, then they should be there relatively quick, within a few minutes, and stay no longer than 4 minutes before rising in depth. If planning to 30 meters, you can stay only 8 minutes at 30. Here is a little dive table I put together to make that clear of how it should be.

This dive is not uncommon, not complicated and not hard to plan out. Who knows how many times I’ve dove this profile and never had a problem. Again, either the 4 instructors were complete idiots, or this is fake news or poorly researched.

 

2. The time line. It’s not completely crazy for someone to get low on air at the end of a dive, even an instructor, but by then you are near the surface, near your exit point, done with your safety stop, and in no trouble. But according to the article (screenshot above), they all ran out at 30m?!

Let me tell you all of the things that had to go wrong for this to even be possible. No checking of air gauges (X4 instructors), no checking computer for time at depth (X4 instructors), No having a computer to track time and depth (X4 instructors), and just being stupid. Even if someone doesn’t have a computer showing bottom time, is it really hard to not know if you have been there 4 minutes or 40?

It is absolutely impossible to run out of air at 30 meters, when following a correct dive table/plan, unless you are stuck in a cave or something. According to the info on the article, instead of their dive table looking like the quick one I made above, it would look like this-

No wonder they were full of nitrogen! You might be wondering why I say 40 minute bottom time. The reason is, I’ve never met an instructor who couldn’t make a standard 12L tank last at least 45 minutes. In fact I don’t have great air consumption, yet I can go 60-70 minutes or even more. So I give them the lowest possible time it would take someone to run out of air, 40 minutes. That means, if BBC is correct, they spent at least 40 minutes at depth, which no instructor would ever do. None.

I don’t mean to bash this guy, or the other divers who were just as dumb but got off lucky, but when I first started reading this story it was so outlandish that my immediate reaction was “fake news” by BBC or super poor research and making up facts. But now that I’ve read a little further, it turns out it was all the diver, Rich Osborn, who is either a complete idiot, lying or both.

It turns out there was a podcast interview with him, and they wrote down the exact manuscript of what he said about the incident. Sure enough, it was all him and his dive buddies. BBC didn’t even paraphrase things he said. He was sticking to this ridiculous tale, and thats that. Here is that podcast transcript, where you can see for yourself.

I figured BBC was just sensationalizing the story, making it more dramatic, adding in some meters etc. Nope. This guy sits there bragging and telling the reporter how he is a “highly trained professional obviously”, more than once, and many other claims that contradict the whole story.

To play it off, he blames the whole incident on, well and I quote “what happened was a disparity between what was planned in terms of breathing rates and what actually happened on the dive”. 

That is the biggest line of bullshit I’ve ever heard, and one that a diver would give who tried something dumb, messed up, and has to make an excuse to a reporter that doesn’t know any better. Complete bullshit. No diver plans a dive around his projected air consumption rate. Thats idiotic and unheard of. There are many variables that effect air consumption, just like on land, such as currents and surges to name a couple. You use more air working hard than relaxing. Don’t try to bullshit us dude.

And then he said it again. No dude, you dove outside your limits, and you’re paying for it.

 

 

Ok I’m done. I just wrote 2000 words about what could of happened, but turns out he’s just an idiot, and so are his friends. He said they wanted to go do something crazy on their day off, so wanted to go deep. When she asked how deep, he meekly says 40m, as if thats wildly crazy. Now I am starting to think they went much deeper, got too low on air, and just couldn’t do their decompression time or safety stop.

They didn’t take out safety lines with extra dive tanks to lower down, probably because that would look suspiciously to their dive center,  like they were going to be doing something stupid. So they just went for it, ignoring, or not bringing a computer at all. Who knows, but it’s case closed. This doesn’t show that diving is dangerous, it just shows the consequences of being an idiot.

What does bother me though, is that at the end of the podcast he says he is instructing disabled divers now…. Someone please make a call..

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

15 thoughts on “A Response to BBC Article “The Dive That Crushed My Spine”

  1. Many divers actually do plan dives around their projected gas consumption rates (it is standard practice for technical divers), but the story is still extremely implausible. As a technical diving instructor, I will go beyond “implausible” and say close to impossible, and it would take me a lot of space to add the other unlikely parts that were not mentioned in this response.

    I can give a much more plausible explanation that will account for everything. They planned and executed a dive well beyond 40 meters, not realizing how fast you go through your gas at that depth. They did not want to admit that, though, for a variety of reasons. If that is what they actually did, that would explain their all running out of air and the severity of the results.

  2. I’ve bumped into this article and to my mind it’s littered with inaccurate assumptions and untrue facts.
    First off, and instructor does not have to have hundreds of dives, normally, for most agencies 100 is enough, with some timefrane built in.

    40 metres is absolutely pushing the limits for some instructors, the deepest an instructor would normally go, day to day at work would be 30 metres. Many divers would never dream of going to 40 metres, and in fact many agencies suggest recreational diving ends at thirty metres.

    It is not impossible to run out of air at thirty metres and still be within the NDL. its actually pretty easy if current and stress are factors in the dive.

    I would like to meet a diver that could a 12 litre tank last 40 minutes at 40 metres on a square profile.

    I’m actually a little bored with this article, but just a final thought, your suggestion that they planned a dive to excessive depths is clearly wrong as if it had been planned a gas calculation would have been part of the plan.

    There is no dought this dive was a cluster, and I’m pretty sure the journo added a little, as if it bleeds it leads. The thing is its perfectly understandable that a group of instructors, driven on by ego could make such dreadful choices, that would result in this outcome.

    • You’re clearly not a experienced diver, why would they be 40 minutes at 40m? Why challenge someone to stay that long that deep, if its way beyond limits? I’ve gotten hundreds of comments on social media saying they think I am right, that they did go much deeper than what he claims, you are the only one trying to justify the guy. He clearly went much deeper and got hurt for it, but cant claim so or else his insurance would not cover it.

  3. Let’s see the dive computers! Wouldn’t BBC think to fact-check this story with raw data? Surely 4 instructors = 4 computers. Even hobbyists who go regularly rarely dive without one. I am also in agreement that this dive is BS. My best friends just did their OWs and like you said, there is SO much common sense that was missed among four “experienced” divers. I also think they went too deep and are now lying through their teeth to con their insurance. Or, there was a machismo thing going on where one ran low and was too scared to alert the others and look like an air hog.

  4. NDL on DSAT tables at 40m is 10 minutes and 30m is 20 minutes (on a dive computer, that time would be reduced). Both of those profiles are easily doable on an 11l tank by an experienced diver. If they decided to stay longer then they would incur mandatory decompression and the “meticulously planned” statement goes out the window as they had no backup air supply.

    PADI instructors are supposed to teach their students to monitor air supply and be aware of it at all times within 10% of capacity. I agree with the comment that many divers plan their dives based on their consumption (that was part of my open water course in 1982, but is not taught now until higher levels) but they never rely on this alone to determine how long to stay down. It’s in fact the opposite, if consumption at any point in the dive doesn’t match expectation, then you change the plan.

    Furthermore, having everyone run out at 30m would indicate that the two divers who did not run out at 40m did not maintain sufficient reserve. Enough reserve needs to be kept to bring two divers to the surface, from 40m if everything is done perfectly and a reasonable breathing rate the four minute safe ascent + 3 minute safety stop would need about 17x the divers’ SAC rate for each diver.

    Sorry am going to switch to cubic feet here. So I use .6 cu/ft min as my SAC rate for planning which is reasonably conservative for ascent. So 17 x .6 cubic feet is about 10 cubic feet. For 2 divers that is 20 cubic feet, or 1/4 of a tank (11l at 207 bar or 80 cubic feet at 3000PSI). So the minimum that anyone at 40m should have is 750 PSI or 50 bar, but to take care of other contingencies, anxiety after running out of air, maybe 1000 PSI 75 bar would be reasonable.

    The comments about writing each other notes on their slates while dealing with an out of air emergency would only make sense if they were making decompression stops and if there was a 30m stop it might indicate that they went much deeper than 40m. Until you reach the surface or safety stop depth, the only priority is to ascend at a rate which will get everyone out.

    Maybe the “100” club still exists on Cyprus.

  5. I have emailed a complaint to the bbc on this article – i think it is a dangerous mis-representation of what a “well planned dive” looks like.

    The article I have referenced contains a number of errors and inaccuracies that make it misleading.

    Firstly, referring to the dive as “well-planned” is clearly wrong. the fact that 4 divers ran out of air without any technical faults, proves without doubt that the dive was not well planned. One diver, let alone 4, do not simply run out of air without explanation on dives that have been well planned.

    Describing the dive as such is both misleading and dangerous as it seems to suggest that the divers may even have planned to run out of air or that this is a somehow normal occurance on “well planned” dives.

    Secondly, referring to the individuals involved as “four experienced scuba diving instructors” causes concern. First of all, for four divers to run out of air at 40m, on a so called “well planed” dive, one would have to conclude that they are either incompetent or foolish, to put it lightly. Describing these individuals as such is misleading – experienced divers who are competent do not, without explanation, simply run out of air at 40m. Doing so both proves beyond doubt that they were incomptent, inexperienced or simply lacked basic knowledge of dive equipment. For example, you are taught, from day 1 when you take up diving, to regularly check your air. To experience “absolute surprise” as quoted in the article reinforces this point further.

    However, more concerning here is the total lack of any qualification of what is meant by “experienced” or “instructors”. The article does not cite or reference where they achieved diving qualifications, how long they have been diving for or what their experience of open water is. A properly researched piece of journalism should do this and to omit any explanation or context is directly misleading.

    I ask that you remove the article or edit it : to suggest that these people were experienced and able to plan a dive well does disservice to those divers that are properly qualified and able to do so regularly.

  6. I am a PADI DM, have gained that in Belize and regularly dove to 40m with clients in the Blue Hole. Our dives were well planned, mishaps occurred with qualified but maybe less experienced divers who ran short on air, were freaked by sharks, nervous or just tired. Our well planned dives enabled myself to escort these individual divers through planned stops to the surface and back to the boat whilst the rest of the team- usually an instructor or DM per 5 clients- would continue the dive and complete the plan.
    I dive all around the world and I have never even known a fresh Open Water Diver not be aware of his air position and be back on the boat with air to spare- as planned!
    In this case seems the story does not stand up. Maybe they went deeper, maybe they started with half empty or worse tanks?
    Getting a view of their equipment would have been interesting, I am sure the chamber wanted to know what depth they were at, and seeing a guy in such stress surely three buddies would break the silence and admit the real story?
    Someone above says they know the truth….do tell….

    • Sounds like a good operation. Belize is known for some shady ones, with guides taking new divers way too deep, sadly. Glad you are a good one. I hope the dude above elaborates, but I’m sure they went too deep.

  7. I have to say that this story is utterly crazy. Certainly can not be called well planned dive. However, I would like to point out that 40 min at 40m is not realistical with a 12l tank and box diving profile. Let’s say the two fellas who first ran out of air had RMV of 22l/min (Stetson-Harrison method). At 40m, 5bar this means 12l @ 200bar will last: (12l*(200bar-5bar)) / (22l/min * 5bar) = 21min 16s. Sure that is still crazy long and way over deco limits, but much more plausible than forgetting time for 40 min. Also while 22l/min isn’t spectacularly amazing if they were very excited, anxious or otherwise physically or mentally stressed the consumption could be way worse perhaps near double, meaning that bottom time would shrink closer to 10-15min, which is still relatively lot, BUT I’m just saying it’s possible if one wasn’t that well educated in deeper dives and assumed they could linger there for 40 min and then just I don’t know how they intended to avoid the bends without a deco, but just saying they most probably did not need to spend 40 min down there.. dead stupid operation nonetheless.

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