Incident Insights: My Diving Incident

By DAN Asia-Pacific’s John Lippman.


East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Dives

Prior to the first of two dives, the instructor gave a poor dive brief and indicted the maximum depth would be 18–20m. Unfortunately, the instructor descended to approximately 36m before the divers noticed. Adding to this, the instructor ascended carelessly without proper safety stops. During the second dive the guide moved at a quick pace, leading to over-exertion as the diver struggled to keep up. She started to hyperventilate, felt out of breath, cold and shivery.

The Onset of Symptoms

The symptoms started within an hour, but the diver put it down to tiredness. The following day she had three flights. After each flight the diver’s vision was blurred and she experienced a feeling of confusion. By the time she reached Jakarta she had nausea, confusion, blurred vision, tingling in the arms and legs, pain in her joints, lethargy and a general unwell feeling.

The Treatment

The diver presented at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Benhil, Jakarta, and spent a total of 12.5 hours in the chamber over a three-day period. After the first session she felt some relief, especially with the pain in her arms. After the final treatment, she had extremely weird and uncomfortable neurological sensations all over her body, especially the legs, which lasted several days. The feeling of confusion also lasted several days after treatment. It was a full week after the final treatment before the symptoms completely disappeared.

Lessons Learnt

The diver learnt that she should always, despite having a guide, trust her own equipment and experience. The diver says she should have taken the following corrective action:

  • “I should have questioned the dive brief to understand fully the upcoming dive.
  • A depth alarm should have been on my dive watch.
  • Upon feeling tired I should have clearly notified my group and rested; wanting to keep up with the group is not an excuse to push past my own limits.
  • Upon onset of hypoxia my dive should have been immediately ceased.
  • Upon resurfacing I should have immediately commenced breathing oxygen to alleviate any symptoms. In my case, treatment was not started until returning to Jakarta, more than 48 hours after the last dive.
  • I should have taken more action to alert the dive shop of the incident and my symptoms upon returning to the dive resort. Instead I listened to the advice of the dive instructor and my group and chalked my symptoms up to being tired.
  • In the future, I will get more sleep and plan for fewer dives rather than more.
  • I will allow sufficient time between my final dive and flying.
  • Although the dive operation appeared reputable, the results were to the contrary. In the future I will do more reconnaissance work and ask fellow divers for advice.”

Comment by John Lippmann, DAN Asia-Pacific

It’s disappointing, to hear there was no oxygen on the boat. This is not good enough and divers need to be selective to use operators who are appropriately equipped to deal with a dive accident. It’s also disappointing to read that the diver was told by her instructor and group that she was probably just tired. This is a decision that should only be made by someone with specific diving medical expertise.

The diver, or others with her, could have, and should have called a DAN Hotline for advice. This is available for anyone, whether a DAN Member or not. The difference is that if the diver is a DAN Member, DAN will take over the management of the situation as necessary and cover relevant costs in accordance with their policy.

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