National Fisherman

A dive gone wrong

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

On a calm, sunny Florida morning in May a commercial fisherman on a moored 43-foot boat was filling a dozen or so scuba tanks with 3,000 psi of nitrox, an oxygen-enriched air mixture.

The vessel was equipped with air compressors, oxygen tanks, regulators, buoyancy control devices, dive calculators, and spear guns used to venture up to 150 feet below the ocean's surface in search of snapper and grouper. After prepping the vessel and making sure all the gear was in working order, the skipper and three-man crew untied the lines.

Everyone onboard had worked diving together for several years.

Late in the day the crew reached the day's final dive spot 60 miles east of Mayport. Taking into account the wind and current, the skipper instructed one of the crew members to "ready the hook" while the skipper maneuvered the boat so the ledge would be just off their stern. Minutes later the anchor was set and two divers donned their wet suits and assembled their gear.

Spear guns in hand, the divers disappeared below the surface. Diving at a depth of 140 to 145 feet allowed them just 12 to 14 minutes of bottom time. They closely monitored their digital dive computers so they would know when to resurface.

Reaching the ocean floor in tandem, they parted ways toward opposite ends of the ledge. As they swam away from each other, one diver heard the sound of a spear gun being discharged.

"He must have gotten one!" he thought to himself as he continued swimming away from his partner. A little later, that diver resurfaced, swimming toward the boarding ladder at the stern of the boat empty-handed.

As the minutes passed with no sign of the other diver, the crew grew anxious. The skipper said if the diver hadn't resurfaced after 28 minutes, they'd go down and look for him.

The skipper made a mayday call, requesting Coast Guard assistance for a missing diver.

While awaiting help, the skipper instructed both men onboard to don their gear and search for the missing diver.

Shortly after they dove in, the two men recovered the missing diver. He was unresponsive.

They performed CPR on the boat until a Coast Guard helicopter arrived to airlift the diver to the nearest hospital. He was pronounced dead from injuries consistent with drowning.

Lessons learned
In this case, Coast Guard investigators determined the accident occurred largely because an oversight led to the fisherman's scuba tanks being filled with an incorrect oxygen-air mixture.

Divers performing work-related diving activities are encouraged to have a thorough understanding of safety guidelines applicable to their unique trade. Whether working on the surface or the ocean floor, fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

Inside the Industry

Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.


The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is teaming up with leading shark-tracking nonprofit Ocearch to build the most extensive shark-tagging program in the Gulf of Mexico region.

In October, Ocearch is bringing its unique research vessel, the M/V Ocearch, to the gulf for a multi-species study to generate previously unattainable data on critical shark species, including hammerhead, tiger and mako sharks.

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