Diver Feels Crushing Chest Pain

While diving in a group, one diver suffers difficulty breathing and feels a crushing pressure on his chest.

Reported Story

Our group consisted of five divers. We all geared up topside and entered the water, put our fins on, made sure everyone was set and began our dive. We leveled off at 60 fsw, (18 msw) and headed south along the reef, fluctuating between depths of 60-78 feet (18-24 meters). At the 14-minute mark we were at a depth of 60 feet (18m). My dive buddy approached me and signaled that he was not feeling well. I repeated the signal back to him and he verified there was an issue. I signaled back asking if he wanted to end the dive and ascend, and he acknowledged that we needed to end the dive and make our accent. Once we hit the surface I inflated his and my BCD, placed him on his back, located the exit point and began to swim back. I did remove his regulator at one point, long enough so he could tell me tell me his symptoms which were that it felt like there was an elephant sitting on his chest and he was in a considerable amount of pain and having difficulty breathing.

Before we reached shore, another diver in our group had made his way back to shore and informed a person there to call an ambulance. Once we made it to shore, my buddy’s chest pains did not subside and he continued to breathe off the regulator. Since we were at a dive shop, I yelled for someone to bring oxygen. At this point, my buddy was losing consciousness and could no longer communicate with us. The person from the dive shop arrived with the oxygen and we swapped out the regulator for oxygen.

The diver was unresponsive by this time, his eyes were barely open but I repeatedly spoke to him telling him to breathe. The ambulance arrived about 15 minutes of us reaching shore. They stuck an IV in the diver and began monitoring his oxygen saturation ensuring me that he was breathing. They also placed patches on his chest and hooked up a heart monitor, so he was breathing and he was not having a heart attack. At the hospital, a CT scan was ordered to rule out issues with his brain. He was being taken care by the ER doctor, a cardiologist and a neurologist.

We contacted DAN within the first 30 minutes of getting to the hospital to open a case. As time passed his condition improved, his color came back and his speech improved. The EKG’s and CT scan were all normal. They kept him overnight to repeat the blood work and EKG. All the test came back normal and they released him 24 hours after we arrived. No diving for the rest of the week for him and they told him to seek out specialists when he returned to the states.


The cause of this medical emergency is not yet fully understood but these divers took the best course of action by seeking medical treatment immediately. The diver started his day with no reason to suspect this dive would be anything but fun. Then, when he started feeling unwell he correctly signaled his buddy, they ascended in a controlled manner and the buddy inflated both BCDs before towing the victim to the shore. This case is a perfect example of why every diver should consider taking additional training to rescue their buddy.

On the shore first-aid was swiftly supplied, an ambulance was called and soon arrived, all while the patient deteriorated. There is no way to know how this might have ended if medical assistance was not so readily provided. Then, once at the hospital the dive buddy called DAN, a case was opened and medical advice was given in real-time. Thankfully, and we have seen this before in divers who receive early treatment, this diver reports no lasting ill effects.

Peter Buzzacott, MPH, PhD