Into national rescue
Diving off Poole this weekend and we had a nice schedule of two wrecks and two drift dives planned. The first wreck was the Venezuela, a WWI coal carried which was torpedoed by a submarine. It was a beautiful dive filled with interesting fish life and some huge conger eels. It's hard to describe quite how sinister and evil-looking the conger is all sleek and gun metal grey. They lurk in dark places and suddenly when you peer under something and see this peering back.
Apparently there are recorded congers in excess of 90kg and if you catch one from a boat less than 1.2 metres long you have to throw it back -- I know some people who'd have to be thrown back by those rules.
Anyway, the drama started when we got back on the boat. One of our divers had had a sudden inner ear problem and completely lost balance underwater. Despite being a very experienced and calm diver she had lost control of her buoyancy, sank then surfaced missing decompression stops and accidentally dragging her buddy part way to the surface. Both had then dived down again to complete decompression (not what you're strictly meant to do but lots of divers do this).
Side note: For those who don't know, if you dive deep and long then you need to wait for some time at around 5 metres under the water until you are safe to surface -- in the kind of diving I do, this time is usually between 3 minutes and 30 minutes. Some technical divers have to do this for many hours. If you miss these stops then you suffer from decompression sickness or "the bends" (named after "the grecian bend" a dance from the mid 19th century -- the connection being that the agonised contortions of someone suffering the bends are said to have a certain resemblance to same dance).
When they surfaced we immediately put both of them onto oxygen but didn't immediately get quite how serious the situation was. Then we discovered one diver's computer had "locked out" and immediately phoned the hyperbaric chamber (this is an interesting thing -- a small chamber for two or three people where you get sealed in for hours at a time, and "compressed" as if you were underwater and then "surfaced" slowly. After a somewhat uncomfortable few hours (made more bearable by copious quantities of valium) our divers were out and fine but not allowed to dive for weeks.
We were all a little shaken by the incident but carried on with the plan for another deep dive the next day. Another lovely wreck, the Borgny which was lying upside down with some impressive propellers pointing to the sky and a relaxing dive but we had to complete seventeen minutes of decompression. I was in the middle of miming "sounds like ride" (going for "the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" -- charades is bloody difficult underwater because the other person can't speak) when my buddy (who had completed his deco before me, he hadn't been peering under stuff quite as much) indicated he wanted to surface without me to talk to people on the boat. I only had a few minutes so I was fine with him leaving me but thought it was a bit weird. He was carrying the buoy on the surface and he'd started to feel "get back to the boat" tugs on it as a signal to come up. I waited on my own for three minutes and headed up (itself a slightly fingernail biting experience as I never ever solo dive so it was quite eerie).
When I got on deck two of our divers were lying on their backs on the deck being given oxygen. I was rushed out of my dive gear because a helicopter was about to arrive. Apparently another two divers had missed stops -- this time because someone (not from our club) had borrowed a diving suit (dry suit), worn it for the first time, and not really worked out how to use it so popped to the surface missing ALL his decompression. His buddy had (for unknown reasons) surfaced alongside him). Fortunately, one of the divers who'd been in the chamber yesterday had stayed on the boat to help out and was really familiar with the procedure at that point.
I must admit it was bloody exciting (in a nail-biting kind of way). We have done training about what to do in the case of a helicopter lift (indeed I've given a lecture on just that subject) but this was my first time "for real" (and I think everyone on the boat's first "for real") one. Scary stuff for everyone involved. Fortunately in the end everyone was OK but after three years of diving the two most serious incidents I've ever seen happened in the same weekend, the first one being nobody's fault. The second one rams home the diver lesson of "test new kit in the pool first -- really really really" -- diving with new kit in open water is chancy. Doing a deep long decompression dive with kit you don't know is just asking for trouble.
Anyway, everyone was OK and we did get some awesome freebies from the decompression chamber (waterproof pouches which I'm pretty sure I can use to make phone calls from underwater -- going to test with cheap phone).
Fortunately, the helicopter crew were incredibly efficient