Diving The Fine Line

By-Darren Shields

Diving The Fine Line

Diving The Fine Line

After having three close shaves with shallow water blackout in my teenage years and being in two spearfishing events where fellow competitors lost their lives to it, and having dive buddies blackout while diving with me, I worried about my children getting into the sport and that one day it could raise its ugly head.

Vanuatu was our destination and Jackson, my 13 year old son, and his mate Karl and brother Sam were so excited about a week’s spearfishing in warm blue water that I was mindful that this is one of those times when you have to be extra vigilant. It would be a combination of inexperience, the carefree attitude of youth, competition between three young men to out do the other and clear water. A dream adventure or disaster waiting to happen … it is a very fine line. I had the flu so blocked sinuses meant it took me a long time to descend. This wasn’t a problem as we were working a deep edge on the third day out and the slower you went down the less you spooked the fish feeding in our burley trail. The bottom was at 28 metres and sloping deeper, there was a tide running and Jackson and Karl were the only ones in the water with me as we worked close to each other. I breathed up and dived slowly to let my sinus clear, all the time scanning around me. Jackson followed my slow descent, levelling out at 17 metres while I continued to sink towards three dogtooth tuna near the bottom. At 27 metres I lined up on the nearest fish and stopped to let it turn away for a shot through the top of the head rather than the presented side on shot. Fortunately I missed (explanation later) and heading for the surface noticed Jackson three to five metres above me, watching. I remember thinking he was reasonably deep but diving well. I hit the surface took a big breath and started to pull my shaft from the bottom. As I got the shaft in my hand something didn’t seem right, I hadn’t seen Jackson. Turning, I spotted him 10 metres away, unconscious, lying on his back and slowly drifting away in the current. I flew to him, lifting his submerged face clear of the water and yelling to the boat which had spotted us and was reacting. I gently removed his mask and pulled back his hood. There was no response and bubbles were coming from between his clenched teeth and lips. I began talking to him, encouraging him to breathe, not yelling just firmly and to the point, not wanting his reflexes to keep things shut down. This was one of the worst situations I’d been in and was unsure how long to continue this before administering mouth to mouth. I had my unconscious son in my arms and the boat was frantically trying to get to us. After what seemed like minutes but was probably 30-40 seconds, Jackson coughed, vomited and opened his eyes. He told me to let go of him and started coughing again and in between these coughs asked what the hell was going on. I was overwhelmed with relief. Jackson was now very coherent as the boat came alongside to pull him on board.

The oxygen was already hooked up and ready to be administered and Jackson was put in the recovery position for 30 minutes. Luckily for him, when he sat up, a very bad headache seemed to be the only side effect. Jan, a fireman and dad to Karl and Sam, used his first aid skills to monitor Jackson and was happy with his progress and vital signs. That was Jackson’s spearfishing time over for the rest of the trip. He didn’t have much recollection of the event and no ill effects other than dented pride. Jackson said he’d not realised how deep he had sunk while watching me because of the clear water. I have kept going through the ‘what if’ I had speared that tuna and been dragged away, not knowing Jackson had been with me and got into trouble. It’s a fine line between disaster and a dream trip.

(Next issue Dr Simon Mitchell will take us through the procedures should you experience a similar event)

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