Thursday, November 4, 2010

Great shallow water blackout story

A personal account from Steve below.  Be safe everyone.

I want to start this email off by giving God all the glory right now, the fact that I’m even around right now is nothing short of a miracle. Without Cameron Kirkconnell’s quick thinking and actions, I’m sure I’d be laying in 180ft of water off the west coast of Florida. This is my account of the incident, and much of it will overlap with Cam’s which I will include at the end of this email for those who have not read it. This all occurred while freediving, there were no tanks involved whatsoever. I was wearing board shorts and a rashguard, no wetsuit and no weightbelt, water temp was around 85*F.

We had planned this to be the last dive of the day, 70 miles offshore of Englewood, FL, in 180 ft. of water and it was approaching 6:00pm. On a previous dive, we had spotted a cubera snapper in the 100lb class, between 75 and 100 ft, and discussed our tactics on the surface prior to the drop. We’d always joked around about rigging a fishing rod directly to the shooting line on the gun to reel the fish in, and for one time out of the thousands of combined shots that we had taken, Cameron decided to give it a try. After a thorough 5-7 minute surface breathe up, I dropped down to somewhere between 75 and 100 ft (I was not wearing a freediving computer) to look for the fish. After about a minute of searching, I decided to head for the surface as I could not find the fish. Cameron observed much of my ascent and dropped down to look around for the cubera with his “fishing reel Hawaiian-breakaway setup.” I remember swimming upwards and seeing ripples on the surface appx. 25 ft away in the crystal clear water, and instantaneously, bam, I was out cold, shallow water black out. As Cameron lined up the shot on the cubera, the white handle of my speargun sinking past him caught the corner of his eye, moments before he pulled the trigger. At this time, he looked up to see me sinking head first, unconscious and convulsing, about 60 ft away from him laterally in the water.
He immediately dropped his weight belt and swam full speed at me with hopes to get a shot off at the meat of my thigh for a good holding shot, but could not be confident that such a shot would hold at a distance. His second thought was to shoot my calf, but the bones of my lower leg blocked the shot as I was facing him. For a split second, my fiberglass longblade fins turned broadside towards him and he squeezed the trigger, wham, a perfect penetrating shot to the center of my fin. Cam has said that, at this point, it was the closest he had ever been to blacking out himself. However, he made it to the surface and proceeded to instruct everyone on the boat to cut the achor line and reel in his shaft, because I was on the other end and had drowned.
When I reached the boat, I had been under water for appx. 3 and a half to 4 minutes at depth; my body was limp and completely blue, I was also bleeding out of my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I had a faint pulse but was unconscious and not breathing, and my airway was not opened. This is what is known as a “dry drowning” because the glottis in the back of my throat had closed, not allowing air or water to enter or exit. Cam tilted my chin back and head to the side, blowing air across my cheeks and under my eyes to stimulate breathing as you would an infant.

At this point, still unconscious, some foamy, blood-like fluid (called “sputum,” the result of a pulmonary edema) leaked from the side of my mouth. After a short time I sputtered a small cough and took what Cam described as a 1% lung capacity breath. Another 30 seconds later, I did this again with more sputum foaming from my mouth, and after 10 minutes or so of this repetitive action, I had about 15% lung capacity. This entire time, Cameron and the others on the boat were on the radio with the Coast Guard to get oxygen out to us ASAP. I can’t say that I was aware for much of the time prior to this, but I remember hearing Cam’s voice assuring me that everything would be okay as I drifted in and out of awareness in my own mind. Another 5 minutes later, after a total of 15-20 minutes of unresponsiveness, I finally slurred out some words and could lightly squeeze his hand. From this point on, as the boat was speeding towards shore, I slowly regained motor functions and lung capacity (up to about 30%), until the Coast Guard helicopter arrived, 45 minutes after the original accident, still 55 miles offshore. They lifted me in a basket into the copter, and I was at Tampa General Hospital within 30 minutes.
I still had very little lung capacity as they were filled with the sputum from the pulmonary edema, I was throwing up blood that was in my stomach, and my entire body ached. Luckily I dodged two other bullets which were of concern: the blood from my ears and eyes. The blood from my ears was caused by the fact that I had not equalized as I sunk from appx. 25ft to 80ft, but somehow I did not burst my ear drums and my hearing was not affected. The blood from my eyes was a result of the massive mask squeeze on my face caused by the fact that I had also not blown air into my mask to compensate for compression as I was sinking, but once again I escaped without injury. I spent a total of one day in the Trauma Center, two days in the Intensive Care Unit, and one day on the hospital floor, with the majority of the time spent concentrating on reducing the amount of fluid in my lungs. There was absolutely no long term damage to my body or brain, and my lung capacity is back to nearly 100% after only days.

I can not stress enough how amazingly fortunate I was. I am not aware of anyone else surviving a shallow water blackout after being retrieved from such depth without major physical and mental damage. Every little thing worked out perfectly, and if anything was different, I can say with 100% confidence that I would not be here. If I had watched the whole thing from a third person standpoint, I would also say that there is no way I should have survived. Why we decided to rig the gun to the fishing reel on the boat for this one shot out of the thousands we had taken in our lives, I don’t know. How my gun sank right next to Cam, I don’t know. How he saw the gun before pulling the trigger on the fish and thus not having a shot left for me, I don’t know. Why the shaft penetrated my fin perfectly without cracking it or breaking, I don’t know. Why my fin didn’t slip off while I was being reeled in resulting in me sinking, I don’t know. Why my ear drums didn’t burst and my eyes sucked out of my head, I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m here, and God is great. Cameron’s multiple freedive spearfishing world records speak for themselves as far as his diving ability is concerned, but I’m sure he would agree that this was the best shot of his life. There is nobody else on the planet that I would trust more to take a long range shot directly at me to save my life in 200ft of water.
The scariest part is that this could happen to anybody at anytime, and those with more experience are even more susceptible to shallow water blackout. If this email and my story saves one person then everything that has happened was more than worth it. To everyone, dive safe, always dive with a buddy, and don’t push your limits because NO FISH IS WORTH YOUR LIFE!

Steve Bennett

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More General Diving and Snorkeling Safety Tips

Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular vacation activities and hobbies. Besides the well-known tropical waters, many people like to dive and swim in natural springs, lakes, and rivers. Snorkeling is especially easy for any member of the family. But there are a few safety rules to remember.

At The Water's Surface

If you are diving in a lake or part of the ocean where there are boats, always leave a buoy floating with the "diver down" sign, indicating to boaters that someone is underwater in that spot. Then, do not leave the area you have marked. Snorkelers should also indicate their presence with floats or markers.

Always go scuba diving and snorkeling with at least one friend. If anything happens, one of you should be able to assist the other or go for help.

Under Water

Scuba diving and snorkeling are water sports, so some people have to take certain precautions before diving in. Snorkelers should know how to swim, even if they are just floating with a lifejacket.

Diving, however, has more barriers. People with heart conditions should not dive. Diving deep into the water causes pressure on the body to increase. A well-trained diver knows to descend and ascend very slowly and to breathe regularly to prevent gasses from building up in the blood stream and causing serious injury. As a rule, take serious scuba diving lessons with certified instructors to ensure a fun, safe, dive.

Know Your Limits

On TV, we see intrepid divers and swimmers crossing the English Channel, snaking through underwater caves and other dangerous feats. But until you have years of experience and training, do not do something impetuous or unplanned.

Before you go in the water somewhere, find out as much as you can about the site. Scuba diving and snorkeling are even quite complimentary. If you and your buddies want to try a new dive site, reconnoiter it with snorkels. When you have planned a dive, stick to the plan. Do not swim into an underwater cave or dive into water that is too cold.

It is easy to prevent most scuba diving and snorkeling accidents and injuries by planning ahead, including checking equipment before diving, avoiding risks, and getting proper training.

In The Air

Finally, do not plan a flight until at least 24 hours after a scuba dive. It takes at least that long for your body to recover and be able to go through another pressure-change experience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"SPOT" Satellite Tracker Review

Just a quick review from what I heave heard and read about the SPOT tracker. It seems to perform spotty at best. The tracking features are on and if and the web tracking seems hit or miss and doesn't always register. Please everyone use this as a secondary locator tool. Stick with what works - please get an EPIRB if you are heading offshore!

Dive all Winter - Don't get the Flu!

Old Salt to Divers
I guess it's time for my annual warning on how NOT to catch the FLU.

Note: There’s nothing I hate worse than to miss a dive because of the FLU!
Would you like to dive all winter?
Following are a couple of things I’ve learned over the 50 years of commercial diving that have kept me able to answer the calls at 2 A M on a cold winter night, of a tug with a leaking barge in tow, or a hauser rope wrapped around their wheel or,
most important, a spearfishing dive while I was off work on the weekend.
We all know how hard it is to dive with a bad cough, cold or the flu.
NIP IT IN THE BUD! And I don’t mean your beer.
I’m a Diver, not a Doctor, and these are just my experiences being passed on to our diving community.
Have a great winter, Ray

Ray Odor Diving Service
2527 E.149th. Ave.,Lutz,FL33559
Ph.813-971-3368 Fax 813-364-6367

Cough: A little scratch that makes you cough is an indication of bigger things to come.
If I have to cough more than five times in a short period of time, day or night, I have a small, personal bottle of cough syrup next to my bed. Use whatever has worked best for you. Don’t wait till morning, take less than 1/3 teaspoon full. Kill the buggers before they multiply! If it starts up again, take another tiny shot, you haven’t even had a full dose yet. The only thing worse than having to cough heavy at 60 ft is having to do it at 100ft.

Cold: Listen carefully. We all know we can catch a cold by someone coughing right at us, or swapping slobber at the drive in. What we don’t realize is, during cold or rainy weather, the mucus that forms in your sinuses’ is to stop your breathing cold air in towards your brain. That same nose full of mucus is filled with hair follicles that filter out and hold bacteria. When we suck it in and swallow, we are delivering that same bacteria straight to our digestive system. Your body protects you by rejecting the bacteria, either downward or upward, to cleanse your system. You now have the FLU! WHAT CAN I DO???
As an old “cracker” I tell my buddies” DON’T SWALLER NO SNOT.” I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night. Spit it in a kleneex or go to the bathroom, but, “DON’T SWALLER NO SNOT.” That same mucus is delivering all those bacteria to your digestive system. Note, you won’t hear any of this from the medical community, but I haven’t had a case of the flu for over 40 years. I hope this gives you hundreds of hours more dive time this winter, and remember, your resolution form now on is,
Always tell yourself, “If it is to be, it’s up to me”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dry Suit Recall - Check it out!

Diving suit hose linked to a death

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a recall on 65,000 diving suit inflation hoses after a diver died in Los Angeles. The manufacturer, SI Tech AB, has received six reports of hose inserts dislodging, including the one involved in the diver's death.

The hose connects a diver's dry suit to the air supply so the suit can be inflated, helping it stay watertight. The hose contains a black, blue or green insert that can restrict air flow. If the insert dislodges, the air flow could be restricted, posing a drowning hazard.

The hoses were sold with dry suits and separately at diving equipment retailers and distributors nationwide from July 2006 to February 2009.

Consumers should immediately stop using the hoses and contact SI Tech for a list of batch codes included in the recall. Information: Call (877) 348-3529, visit or e-mail

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why you should never shoot a speargun out of the water!

Check out this video. We have all wanted to do this - show off the power of your speargun by shooting it out of the water. Well this video shows why you shouldn't!

Shallow Water Blackout - Freedive Safely

Shallow water blackout seems to be causing why too many deaths recently. Here is an article with some safety tips to take a lot of the danger out of freediving.

Though news of coastal shark attacks seem to preoccupy the media lately, there's something even more dangerous--and a lot more common--that gets much less notice. Its name: shallow-water blackout, a condition which commonly results in death by drowning. This is a very important topic this time of year as our Florida waters are teaming with divers looking for the tasty spiny lobster.
Shallow-water blackout often affects free divers and skin divers (those divers without any sort of breathing apparatus other than a snorkel). I used to think the only dangerous kind of diving was with tanks or compressed air because I had heard of and seen so many disastrous outcomes. However, studies have now shown that many fatalities among experienced divers and swimmers have occurred simply from free diving. Some medical experts believe many of the backyard pool drownings are caused by the physiologic changes that result in shallow-water blackout.

It really is all about physics and gas pressure in the lungs, so here are the nuts and bolts. First, we all know we need oxygen (O2) to live but the body uses our levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) to tell us when to breath.

Most of us deplete our O2 stores more quickly than we build up CO2. This is even more pronounced in experienced divers who can hold their breath for longer periods of time (at least more so than us out-of-shape individuals).

Second, the deeper you are in the water, the more compressed the air in your lungs will become and the more concentrated the oxygen you are able to use.

As you rise in the water the lungs expand resulting in the decrease in concentration of usable oxygen. This expansion of the lungs is more pronounced as you reach 15 feet of the surface and continues to progress as you ascend in the water column. In effect, what can then happen is that your brain becomes starved of precious oxygen and you may blackout. Unless you are helped to safety immediately, you will drown.

As a rule, we all are at risk for shallow-water blackout. Statistics have shown, however, that shallow-water blackout tends to occur more often in experienced divers as well as younger divers. This may be due to experienced divers having become accustomed to ignoring that burning sensation in their lungs longer thus leading to lower levels of available oxygen as they attempt to surface.

Pre-dive hyperventilation is thought to be another dangerous practice that predisposes us to shallow-water blackout.

Just visiting any pool with a bunch of kids competing to see who can stay under the longest can show you this breathing practice when preparing to dive.

Physiologically it makes sense. Several deep breaths with prolonged expirations actually allows you to blow more carbon dioxide from you lungs thus staving off the sensation of needing to take a breath a little longer during a free dive.

Unfortunately, hyperventilating in this manner does not put more oxygen in the lungs and can lead to disastrous results. The U.S. Navy Diving Manual recommends hyperventilating no more than three or four breaths prior to a free dive for the same safety reasons.

Divers who use weights to descend--as well as spear fishermen and our lobster grabbers--are also at special risk because they will likely become focused on their prey and exhaust their oxygen supply beyond safe levels. Thinking "just a few more seconds" puts these sportsmen at risk of drowning due to shallow-water blackout as they try to surface.

If you are as hard headed as I am and intend to go diving any way, here is a summary and suggestions of what you can do to prevent disaster on what will hopefully be a fun day on (and under) the water:
  • Always dive with a buddy and be sure to maintain contact while ascending to the surface.
  • Do not hyperventilate more than three to four breaths (if at all) before diving.
  • Do not over-exert yourself at depth.
  • Pay attention to that burning in your lungs. Your body is trying to tell you something: "I need air!"
  • Do not wear a weight belt while skin diving. If you need weight carry it in your hand.
  • Avoid a competition with your buddy to see who can stay down the longest. You both may end up being down longer than either of you intended!
  • Know basic CPR. (We should all be trained in this anyway.)
  • Know your depth and realize the risks of shallow-water blackout increase as you ascend. This is especially true as you ascend to within 15 feet of the surface.
  • As always, be safe. Live to fish another day!