The day started like any other June day. It was warm, a little windy and perfect for diving one of our favorite training sites: Lake Mohave, Ariz. Our instructor team was teaching three classes that morning — Open Water Diver, Peak Performance Buoyancy and Underwater Navigator — and we had a productive morning of dive training. After successfully completing the certification dives, a group of nine of us decided to delay packing up our gear and instead celebrate with a dive for fun. We headed to the site of a sunken cabin cruiser two coves over.
After a short hike in full gear over a couple of small rises in the desert, we arrived at the entry point. As soon as we got there we heard yelling — a woman floating in an inner tube a short distance offshore was clearly in some kind of distress. A member of our group swam over to assess the situation and learned that someone had gone underwater and had not come back up.
Our training kicked in. One member of our group returned to our base camp to phone for emergency assistance, two swam to assist the woman and get a better understanding of what had happened, and the rest descended to conduct a search pattern. Five minutes into our search I discovered an unresponsive man on the bottom in approximately 40 feet of water. As I approached him I formulated what I would do when I surfaced with him, mentally running through the countless scenarios that have unfolded in the Rescue Diver courses I’ve taught.
When I reached the man I grasped him, brought him to the surface, held his head in a way that would ensure his airway was open and began to administer rescue breaths as I swam with him to the closest point on shore. The rest of the team helped move him onto a flat part of the rocky ground. One instructor deployed a pocket mask that he always carries in his BCD, and we immediately began CPR. Every couple of cycles we shifted responsibility for compressions and ventilations among the rescuers — it’s exhausting to keep up effective CPR as the adrenaline begins to run low. We continued performing CPR for 20 minutes while we waited for the arrival of emergency medical services.
The National Park Service had dispatched a couple of boats, and we placed the patient aboard one of them so he could be moved back across the cove to where the fire department paramedics could take over care. They placed him into a helicopter for transport to the hospital.
By the time the ordeal was mostly over, one of our divers started having some breathing issues due to the combination of swimming, moving the unresponsive victim and enduring the general stress of it all. We deployed our DAN® oxygen unit to help him recover.
Later we learned the victim, who was the boyfriend of the woman in the inner tube, had swum across the cove in pursuit of a small raft that the wind was blowing across the water. He failed to reach the raft, became exhausted and submerged about 20 feet away from the far shore. The man unfortunately never regained consciousness and was later pronounced dead.
Looking back on the incident I think about what we as individuals and as a team did right and what we will do better if we ever find ourselves in such a situation again. After this experience, I cannot overstate the importance of being prepared. I believe all divers should learn and stay current in CPR skills and emergency oxygen administration. I also advocate carrying rescue gear such as pocket masks with you — they are extremely effective for giving rescue breaths and shielding you from bodily fluids and possible disease transmission. The instructor who had one with him always keeps it in an add-on trim pocket secured under his dive-knife grommets. Now each member of our instructor team includes this as part of our normal kit.
We always keep a DAN Rescue Pack oxygen unit with us whenever we are at a remote dive site. We have an emergency action plan that acknowledges that cell phone reception is often bad at our local dive sites and that multiple agencies may be involved in an emergency.
I was proud of our team’s response and how closely it followed what we teach in our Rescue Diver program. I believe we gave the victim the very best chance possible.
© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2016