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!

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