Case Studies of Public Service Fatalities

The following case histories were compiled by University of Rhode Island researcher John McAniss.

A 41-year-old fire captain carrying out a body search with a newly formed scuba team was retrieved from 30 feet after it was noted on the surface that his regulator was free-flowing. Autopsy showed drowning, but damage occurred before or during the accident, but the description of the event is consistent with ear rupture during the descent. This dive was apparently a first open-water dive. The department team had only just completed its pool training, and was scheduled for open-water check-outs.

This accident cost the life of a 56-year-old sheriff’s department search and recovery team diver. The victim was the training instructor for the department, and was said to have had extensive Navy diving background, as well as Master Diver and Instructor certifications.The victim was making his second dive of the day to a depth of approximately 100 feet in an effort to recover the victim of a boating accident. Visibility on the bottom was reported to have been almost zero. The diver’s buddy stated that the victim apparently experienced difficulty with his air supply, that it had probably run low, and he had attempted a free-swimming ascent. The buddy lost sight of the victim in the dark water, surfaced, and found that the victim had not returned to the surface. A standby diver followed the victim’s safety line, but was unable to bring the victim to the surface. Efforts by surface personnel to pull the victim to the surface using his safety line met with strong resistance. Even though four or more persons were tugging on the line, they failed to bring the victim up. The victim was eventually brought o the surface after fifteen or more minutes of effort. Despite heroic resuscitation efforts, the victim did not survive.

This 32-year-old diver was searching for the victim of a previous drowning accident in a 120-foot-deep lake in Tennessee. He was using a surface-supplied air system that he had designed and built himself. The surface tender noted a sudden drop in air pressure in the system, and immediately thereafter could not get a response to line signals on the diver’s hose line. Autopsy data strongly indicates an embolism event.

This fatality was a 30-year-old woman. It occurred during the testing of an underwater communications system, and the test was to have been accomplished in 60 feet of water. Upon completion of the equipment test, the victim proceeded to dive deeper and deeper. At a depth of between 125 and 135 feet, the victim’s buddy attempted to get her to the surface. The victim ceased swimming at about 15 from the bottom. Her buddy attempted to bring her to the surface, but was unable to do so. He then dropped his own weight belt, and made it back to the surface alone. Other members of the dive team immediately responded to the emergency, found the victim around 130 feet deep, and returned her to the surface. Total elapsed time from the beginning of the event when the buddy was forced to leave the victim until the time the body was recovered was approximately nine minutes. Despite extensive CPR efforts, the victim was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

A 30-year-old male firefighter lost his life while attempting to rescue a child, who was inside a submerged motor vehicle in a canal in Florida. This victim made the rescue attempt despite the fact that he had only mask, snorkel, and fins.

A 35-year-old firefighter from the state of Georgia who had been conducting a diver-training program for his department lost his life after becoming trapped in the face of a dam. Both of his legs had become entrapped in an intake pipe, and after 45 minutes of unsuccessful effort, he was eventually pulled free with the use of a crane. The autopsy report indicated that this man had died of “hyperventilation syndrome.” The victim had apparently completed his training duties and was searching for some lost tools when he found a plate missing from the dam face. While attempting to replace this plate, his leg was sucked into the intake opening.

In June of 1987, a 45-year-old police diver died while searching the Detroit River for victims of a boat that had capsized. It was later alleged that the malfunction of a valve on a dry suit was a contributing factor to his death.

A 28-year-old member of a fire department recovery team died in the waters off a beach in South Carolina while attempting to retrieve rigging and netting from a sunken shrimp boat. The victim was in the process of exchanging air tanks, lost his grip on the boat, and went under with his face mask on his forehead. Teammates leaped into the water and found him tangled in an underwater line. Before he could be returned to the boat, he had expired. The cause of death was listed as drowning.

A 28-year-old member of a fire department dive team lost his life in a lake in Oklahoma in December of 1989. The dive team was conducting a search for the victim of a parasailing accident that had occurred the previous October. Amazing techniques that you simply failed to know dating hints tipsWhile attempting to recover the equipment and the body of the accident victim this diver became thoroughly ensnared in the parachute’s lines.

These deaths show some of the dangers of public safety diving, both in training and actual operations.

Author: Andrea Zaferes

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