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My thoughts on the scuba diving death of Eva Schwartz...

BW - Instructor / Registered Nurse/inactive dive instructor
September 11, 2008 at 09:33:05

Shame on you for publicly stating that the buddy system is the only thing that caused this accident when you do not know all the facts. Why is it every time an accident happens whether or not the diver was with a buddy is the only thing that is focused on when so much more can to wrong. Anyone with any experience beyond confined water classes can vouch for just how fallible the buddy system can be.

Look at the accident that happened in the keys on the Speigel Grove last year, 4 "buddies" went in and the only survivor was the one individual who decided to ascend SOLO rather than following his buddies. More than once I have been 5 feet from a "buddy" who couldn't hear my signals.  I signaled in every way I knew how short of shooting them with a speargun and could not get their attention. If I was having a problem how would that have turned out? 

I was on the boat the day Eve went missing and have been following media response to this accident because I knew it would only be a matter of time before judgement calls like yours were made by individuals who just want an explanation so they can make themselves feel better.  The goal is not to report the truth but to continue to propogate a single belief so we can all keep diving with the delusion that it could never happen to us. Any other believe could damage the image that the industry puts out that anybody can learn to dive.

Don't fool yourselves, it can happen to any of us, no matter how experienced we are and whether or not we stay with a buddy. If you don't understand and respect that you shouldn't be in the water. We minimize the risk by following the rules but that doesn't guarantee it will never happen to us. That is why the waiver has held up in court, because we sign a statement saying that we recognize the "inherent risk" of what we do. If we don't fully recognize those risks, in my opinion, we have no business being in the water.

Why don't you ever talk about it when a regulator fails? Because theoretically they are not supposed to fail, and it would be bad for the industry if we acknowledge that they do. In fact Scuba gear fails. We don't acknowledge this because dead divers don't talk. We have no idea how often the cause of death is equipment failure. You talk about remembering basic skills that are taught in open water classes. Remember the free flowing regulator skills we teach because regulators are supposed to be "fail safe" and free flow rather than freezing up? I can speak from personal experience to the fact that a first stage can freeze up. Coincidently mine froze while I was doing my descent when we were searching for Eve. I have yet to bring it in to see what happened and the next time I hooked it up to a tank it worked,  but I will bet my instructor's pay that I will be told it was something I overlooked or did wrong despite the fact that I have probably logged in excess of 2000 dives and by now should have knowledge of how a regulator is supposed to work. 

What would you have been saying about me today if my regulator failure had turned into another tragedy on the same day? That I was diving alone and it is my husband's fault because he wasn't with me when I made an emergency ascent? It's amazing that beyond the comments about the buddy system that are made, the truth of what really cause dive accidents are rarely viewed by the general public. You judge her fiance and friend as though they are at fault and add to the probable guilt they are probably already feeling naturally about such a tragic accident without even waiting to hear any official reports about the incident.  Nobody seems to want to look at the fact that other things can cause diving accidents, and yes, I am going to say it, including equipment failure. 

Heart attacks are the largest cause of diving accidents in our aging population, yet I don't hear you encouraging us to make sure that if we are over 40 that we get an EKG or even a stress test before performing our sport. Every other sport requires a physical before we allow participation and yet in diving the student's word is enough. I am no longer an active instructor because I could no longer tolerate the fact that I was responsible for people's lives in an industry where accidents are fatal and yet the screening process is so lax.  The screening tools for classes are laughable. there is no  decent means to screen people to make sure they are suited for diving. Diving requires an optimum degree of fitness and health which we do not require before people take up the sport and once they are fully engaged we don't require follow-up. 

We are even encouraging parents to put their 10 year olds in diving classes knowing that accidents, though rare, have the potential to be fatal. Developmentally I don't know too many 10 year old that don't think they are invincible? What about putting more emphasis on taking care of yourself? I see divers on boats all the time who don't even know how to put their own gear together yet they're willing to jump in 60 feet of water with the belief their buddy will take care of them. What if their buddy is no more competent than they are? As instructors we have all had the experience with parents of children with attention defecit disorder who use dive classes as babysitters. These children cannot pay attention and sit still in a classroom at school for 5 minutes and yet these same children are allowed to enroll in classes where the classroom is literally under water.

I said it then and I will say it now, what happened to Eve was not the fault of her buddies. In fact, I personally consider the actions I witnessed of all who were there that day, her fiance and the boat Captain especially, to be nothing short of heroic. The Coast Guard and Sherriffs office perform heroic acts every day and should be commended for the extensive search they did and how well they handled the situation. A community of boats and divers who knew her were rallied and began searching for her long before the officials arrived, and continued to search well after the odds of finding her had expired. It is the persistence of her devoted loved ones and friends that brought her home.

Eve was an experienced diver who made her decisions based on what she felt comfortable with as we all do. There are always unanswered questions even when witnesses are present. We call them accidents because that's what they are, accidents.  When accidents happen underwater, just like on land, it is not one event that causes them but a series of events with one in a million odds that occur in succession. I believe that if you genuinely look at all the facts, not just focus on one this is the case in any accident.  Eve is the second person I knew personally who has had a tragic death in a dive related accident. Somehow statistics, standards, and the law of averages mean nothing when the statistic, becomes someone I know.

In reaction to these deaths I have been working on an article that I will attempt to get published that speaks of all of these issues.  I do not expect to get it published easily because of the content but if I have to I will circulate it on the internet to every diver I know and ask them to pass it on.  My goal is to generate thought. I have not included my full name nor the agency I am certified under because I want to state a disclaimer. I am not expressing anyone's opinion but my own.  Just to make it clear, I don't intend on answer anyone's response to my comment. To be honest, I probably won't even look at the responses I get, so you will be wasting your energy if you try to get in a discussion with me about this.

Nor do I have any interest in satisfying anyone's morbid curiosity about the accident. I do not care to defend in any way anything I have said here. The only reason I am writing is because I think it is shameful how quickly we blame, and how fast we grasp on to one thought as though it is the only explanation when a tragedy occurs. None of the people involved deserve such treatment. I expect an onslaught of responses from people who have just enough dives to think they know it all because 50 dives ago they were taught by an instructor who was programmed by an agency that perpetuates their beliefs. For the record, I am not trying to discredit the buddy system, there are many benefits to diving with a buddy, I am simply trying to dispel the myth that it is the only thing that matters.

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