It’s every dive professional’s worst nightmare: you come up from a great dive and it’s all smiles until you realize someone is missing. The initial sinking feeling in your gut is almost indescribable, but it’s important to keep a cool head and follow the proper procedures in order to ensure the best possible outcome in this scenario. Be prepared for the worst, stay calm, evaluate the situation and all likely possibilities, and act according to local procedures.
Be prepared for the worst. This means you should have a plan in place for a lost diver before ever getting in the water. Make sure the boat crew or someone on shore is aware of the process that will take place in the event that someone is missing, and be sure all divers are knowledgeable of the diver recall procedures. Practice this scenario on a regular basis and stay fresh on your rescue skills. This is key to ensure a speedy response, saving valuable moments that might make the difference between a rescue and a recovery.
Stay calm and evaluate the situation. Don’t panic and jump right back in the water, swimming in circles looking for the missing diver. They might have come up before you and went straight to the bathroom. It is critical to gather as much information as you can before starting the search and have someone take notes so they can be referenced later on. Where was the diver last seen? How much air did they have left? Is their gear on the boat or shore? Is their vehicle still at the site? Are they bobbing around on the surface drifting away from the boat/shore? Do you have any certified rescue divers that can assist you in the search? These, and more, are all factors to consider when formulating a plan and can help you narrow your search considerably. It’s a bit embarrassing when you have organized a search party and are getting ready to jump back in the water when the “missing” diver comes walking out of the bathroom asking “is our surface interval over already?”
Act according to local procedures. It’s extremely important that you follow local guidelines for missing divers. Once you know for sure that you are missing someone, contact local authorities and notify them of the situation. Leave at least one person who is knowledgeable of the situation on the surface to communicate to the authorities when they arrive. Continue searching until you have been relieved by the police/fire department/coast guard/ etc.
Most of the time, this situation ends happily. The diver simply got distracted while taking a photo and became separated from the group, or maybe he had to use the restroom or got cold and surfaced not thinking to let the group know. Unfortunately, we do have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. If we are prepared, keep calm, evaluate the situation, and act according to local procedures, we can make our search quick and efficient and hopefully find the missing diver before it is too late.
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