As 5 divers have reportedly been rescued after three days being lost at sea, I can only hope that the other two who are still missing are found. However, this remarkable story is a reflection of incompetence and poor decision making made by the diving operator.
How did the 5 survive that long?
As an experienced diver with over 400+ dives, I can only imagine that the five managed to survive three days in the open ocean by floating with their BC jackets. As they floated, the current pushed them as far as 20 km (12 miles) onto a shallow coral reef (possibly 24-48 hours later) where they clung on until local fishermen found them. They were very lucky that the current pushed them on to the path of the reef because if the reef was not in their path, they would have continued to drift to oblivion.
Also, severe dehydration would have affected them but as bad weather was reported several times since 2/14/2014, the rain provided them with drinking water. I can only speculate that they captured water by using their dive masks as cups.
So What Actually Happened?
Seven divers went on an expedition during Valentines day with a company called “Yellow Scuba”. Their mishap happened when the “experienced” captain of their small 10 meter boat lost track of them due to “extreme weather” and failed to recover them during their third dive of the day.
News link here.
As I have been following the updates from multiple news sources, what bothers me is that there are conflicting reports about how the boat captain lost them. First it was poor visibility due to bad weather. Second, the skipper left the area while they were diving (you never ever do this btw).
Diving Risk Factors
Bad weather and low fuel are risk factors that should have aborted their dive. Definite poor judgement and breach in safety protocal made by the skipper and the dive leader considering the dive spot is a tough one known for drift diving.
Anyway, news reports stated that the bad weather happened within the first 20 minutes of the dive. In that span of time especially in the open ocean, ominous clouds of such “extreme weather” should be visible as far as a mile to 10 miles away.
So why did they continue the dive in an area notorious for capricious currents? Was it greed?
The second conflicting report is that the skipper (boat captain) left the area to refuel. I have never heard of a dive boat leaving the area when there are divers underwater so I believe this report is false but if true, both the dive leaders and the captain are to blame.
If the boat was low on gas, they should automatically abort and head home once reaching their set threshold a.k.a. “bingo fuel”. Refueling a boat doesn’t take just 5-10 minutes; it can take up to 30 minutes or longer to refuel especially in a place where there are currents and boat traffic.The captain should mention any problems with the boat to the dive crew. If he did, then the advisory must have been ignored by the divers. This is a classic example of professional negligence!
Quick Life Saving Tip when going out in a boat!!!
Always follow this gas rule to stay safe in the ocean: 1/3 of fuel going to point of interests, 1/3 of fuel to go back to point of origin, and 1/3 of fuel for fucking emergencies!
View Crystal Bay in a larger map
The area where the dive took place called Crystal Bay is notorious for capricious downward currents where two divers died a couple of years ago. Indonesian authorities have suggested that tour operators avoid the place because of the risks involved. News reports have also stated that all in the group have at least 50+ dives but the more important part that I want to know is how many in the group have had more than 50 dives in the area. The boat captain and instructors that led the dive have probably been there before but I don’t think they’ve been there long enough to understand the currents of that area. The tour committed multiple safety violations that led to them being lost at sea.
At Least 50 Dives is Nothing
There are many factors that determine how competent of a diver you are besides the number of dives you have. Level of training, competence of your dive instructors, navigational skills, gear knowledge, weather knowledge, tides, and etc. all play a role in your ability to dive safely. Numbers are very tricky because I’ve seen people with 100+ dives who still don’t know what they are doing (including dive instructors) especially in areas they have never been before. Even with 400+ dives, I still get nervous at places I’ve never been before and will never take chances. If there are any negative factors affecting dive conditions at a place I am not familiar with, I will cancel my dive.
Did the group even carry safety sausages / SMBs (signal marking buoys) or any signalling devices such as mirrors and lighting beacons?
This brings to mind a scene from the Movie “The Edge”
Charles Morse: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.
Charles Morse: Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.
Robert Green: And what is that, Charles?
Charles Morse: Thinking.
This article to be continually updated as more information passes through.
Note: I have personally tried contacting the dive company to gather more information.
Images courtesy of AP