This past weekend (September 27-28th, 2014) I was tested in my ability and decision to assist a diver with an out-of-control ascent. I say decision because, especially in tech diving, it is each and every diver’s individual choice to help another diver. This is because there is always the risk of getting hurt yourself any time you assist a diver in an emergency.
I have had many simulated emergencies throughout many of my recreational, technical and rebreather courses; I have even had a few real-world incidents occur under water (in and out of training). I have to say one thing first…thank-you to each of my instructors for pushing me during training and preparing me to handle this situation. Although this wasn’t what I would consider an especially dangerous or difficult emergency to handle it was none-the-less a situation that could have led to a diver suffering from some form of DCI (decompression illness). I would also like to thank the diver that I helped for not panicking.
Looking back I am sure that I could have responded sooner and I could have responded slightly differently but I am overall happy with the outcome. Ultimately the diver suffered no signs or symptoms of any type of injury. It is always easy to play the “I could have done this or that” game after it is all over…especially when the video is available and captures most of the incident on tape. I was lucky enough to have a solid foundation of training that I was comfortable helping the other diver, I was also fortunate in that I was diving with another PADI Pro (Divemaster) that was very vigilant in what was occurring; I was able to make quick communication / coordination with him as I was ascending…thanks Brian.
So how did this happen? One simple mistake…failure to properly secure the diver’s weightbelt while adjusting it underwater. After talking with the diver on the surface I found out that he had simply lost control of the weightbelt and it slipped out of his hands. It is extremely important to maintain control of the weightbelt anytime adjusting or taking off a weightbelt underwater. As a PADI diver (and I am sure for other agencies as well) we all have had to complete the task of taking the weight belt off and putting it back on (without dropping it). How often do we do this after certification? Probably never unless you are a professional. My personal recommendation is that if you are going to be doing anything (other than moving slightly) with your weightbelt FIRST let your buddy know. Then be sure to make it as easy for yourself as possible. The intent is to be able to do it without relying on a solid surface, so I recommend being in a belly-down position to take all the weight off of your hands and use gravity to your advantage.
Would I do this again? Yes … in this situation, but I shouldn’t necessarily do it in another such as after a deep technical dive with deco obligation. Knowing my personality I am sure that I would try everything in my power to assist a diver in distress while trying not to be another statistic of a diver who got hurt…or worse…by trying to help a friend. This is something that I alone must reflect on, this is something about myself that I must understand and be prepared to make a split second decision on. This is each and every diver’s responsibility.