Distraction, Unplanned Exposure, and a Lucky Outcome 


  • A diver was diving with a group for sightseeing and to take pictures.  
  • Distracted by the photography, the diver descended further than planned.  
  • The diver then reported feeling dizzy and began to panic.   

Reported Incident

A group of divers were enjoying the underwater sights from a zodiac. It was a calm sunny day with good visibility. The group were enjoying the second day of the trip and splashed on their first dive of the day without incident.  

The dive plan was to stay at a max depth of 30 msw (~98 fsw). A diver on a single tank of nitrox 31% mix and a backplate/wing set up had descended with the group but lost track of their dive buddy. The group was loosely together, but line-of-sight was not maintained between all divers.  

Armed with camera equipment, the diver reported to be filming when he suddenly began to feel dizzy. Checking the computer, the diver realized he had descended to 53 msw (174 fsw). In a brief panic, the diver reportedly “shot to the surface”. At about 15 msw (49 fsw), the diver began to calm down and was able to stop for a 3-minute safety stop at 5 msw. Upon surfacing, the crew were able to spot the diver and brought back aboard the boat. The diver was reported to have been bleeding from his right ear and seemed to be in shock.  

Twenty minutes passed before the divemaster returned to the boat, conducted a neurological assessment, and the diver was put on emergency oxygen as a precaution. The diver did not show any signs of DCS. An audiologist happened to be diving with them and was able to check the diver’s ear, and reported the canal was full of blood with no clear view of the eardrum due to inflammation and blood. The diver denied any other symptoms and was advised not to dive the rest of the day.  

Review & Recommendations

In this case, adding the task of videography to diving seemingly exceeded the diver’s capacity to control depth and stay close to the dive buddy. Task-loading is a known root cause for diving injuries and fatalities. The diver reached depths beyond the No-Deco range and is fortunate to have avoided a significant decompression insult, narcosis, or even oxygen toxicity; all of which could have had a very serious outcome. This is not the first incident of this nature reported to DAN. 

Task loading should be gradual enough so that mastery on the added task can be achieved without ever compromising safety. In this case, choosing a dive site where a safe depth can never be exceeded, and ensuring both divers keep sight of each other. Situational awareness is a skill that is instrumental in staying safe while diving.