The DAN Emergency Hotline recently received two calls for help from technical divers. While all diving carries some degree of risk, tech diving often involves diving deeper and managing higher-risk scenarios. Technical divers in real or simulated overhead situations rely heavily on complicated equipment and extensive training, and it can be harder for them to rectify issues in the water.
The diver in this case was scheduled to perform a solo dive with a run time of four hours. The plan was for the diver to send up his SMB at the dive’s three-hour mark to indicate that he was okay and had arrived at his first deco stop. When the SMB was not launched on time a search commenced. Several local resources, including search-and-rescue and Navy personnel were involved in the search. Sadly, the diver was not located, and after seven days the search was called off.
A hyperbaric facility reported an incident with an Irish diver while they were treating him. The diver, a DAN Member, was doing a week of deep technical dives exploring the wrecks off the north coast of Ireland. The diver had been at a depth of 74m when he experienced an equipment failure that resulted in a failure to deliver gas, which precipitated a rapid unplanned ascent. The diver experienced an immediate onset of DCS symptoms, including full body pain, and was airlifted to the nearest chamber via helicopter.
Following a good response to recompression treatment the diver wanted to fly home just 72 hours after treatment. The treating physician wanted him to extend this preflight surface interval given the severity of the symptoms he experienced, so the diver called DAN to discuss the case further. The DAN representative advised the diver that 72 hours is considered the minimum time period following treatment and it would be wise to wait another few days to fly home.
This diver booked a flight after the call without extending his preflight interval and fortunately returned home without his symptoms worsening. Per DAN advice he sought a follow-up evaluation with a physician back home in Australia for review of symptoms and further treatment.
It’s important for divers of all levels to assess the degree of risk they face on each dive and determine whether they have the experience, training and equipment to comfortably perform the dive with minimal risk. This is particularly important in technical diving, where equipment failures must frequently be dealt with in the water and returning to the surface for help is not an option. Remember that there is no shame in sitting a dive out if it gives you any hesitation at all — the dive will always be there, and you can come back to give it another shot as soon when you are ready. With deeper and more complex dives, your comfort in the water will affect the safety of your entire team in the water, and your buddy will rely on you to honestly and accurately assess your ability to perform during the dive for your buddy’s safety as well as your own.
Regarding post-treatment flight recommendations, there is some debate about how long divers should wait before flying home after a significant recompression treatment. Because of the statistically insignificant numbers of divers available to study there is little scientific data upon which to base a definitive recommendation. The consensus among many dive-medicine-trained physicians is that a 72-hour wait period before flying is adequate in most situations, but it is still up to the treating physician to recommend what they believe to be most prudent for each patient. Significant DCS symptoms and long or repeated recompression treatments may indicate a need for a longer no-fly period, and it is always in the patient’s best interest to follow the treating physician’s recommendations. For more information on post-treatment no-fly periods, or to have a DAN physician consult with your treating physician, visit DAN.org/Contact.