Inflator Causes a Runaway Ascent Under Thick Ice

While diving a frozen lake, a malfunctioning power inflator sent a diver into an uncontrollable ascent before he crashed into three feet of ice overhead.

Reported Story

While diving in a frozen lake, the ring around my power inflator button started spewing bubbles and filling the BCD faster than I could dump the air. This BCD is less than 4 years old. The hose connecting the BCD would not disconnect as it was frozen.

I kept a cool head and did my best to slow my ascent by holding down the purge button; however, air was entering my vest faster than it could escape. I attempted to equalize my ears as I ascended but the cold water (1 degree Celsius) made it impossible in the short time I had.

There was just under one meter (three feet) of ice on the lake. I hit the ice overhead then followed my line back to the hole. The power inflator button was still pliable; however, bubbles were coming out from around its rim and depressing it did nothing. The vest continued to inflate and purge out of the overflow valve until my friends on the surface were able to disconnect the power inflator hose. My rapid ascent to the top of the ice resulted in a ruptured eardrum.


Diving underneath ice, like cave-diving, requires specialist training so that when the unexpected happens a diver will keep a cool head and react appropriately. In this case, when his BCD suddenly and unexpectedly started rapidly inflating the diver kept his head and tried to slow his ascent. While he nonetheless still suffered a ruptured ear-drum, I have no doubt this could have turned-out far worse if he had panicked. Even after his abrupt stop, the situation could have deteriorated if he had not maintained contact with his safety line. Despite his BCD continually over-inflating, losing precious gas and holding him up against the ice, the diver focused on exiting the water to safety. He made it via a hole through almost a meter (three feet) of ice where his friends were finally able to assist him. I am pleased to report the diver says his ear is now healing well and I hope he will be diving again in no time.

Peter Buzzacott, MPH, PhD