my scariest dive

The Scariest Dive

by Dr. Thomas Powell:

Scuba diving is an amazing sport that allows people to see and experience things beneath the surface of the water. Many individuals enjoy the emotions that come with these experiences. Those emotions may include excitement, happiness, and even relaxation. Essentially, diving is a sport that can thrill people with new sights and adventures, or calm someone with the quiet tranquility created by the elimination of typical daily activities. Despite these wonderful emotions that diving can provide, fear can also rear its ugly head. The longer a diver remains active in the sport of scuba diving, and with more time underwater, scary experiences are bound to happen. The following are a few descriptions of the “scariest” dives experienced by different people.

A Haunting Thought

For some people we have what is known as “that moment.”  It is that time in our lives when something changes for us and we realize it in that instant.  This moment may be different for every individual, whether it is good or bad. For me that moment came on my scariest dive, which just happened to be my first open water experience in diving.  You are probably sitting there thinking, “Seriously? On your first dive?” My response is, “Yes, on my first dive.”  Now you are probably going to laugh. I do not care, it was just my moment. I have been on planes, boats, cars, buses, and various construction equipment, and I have also never had a problem being in the water. Some of you reading this know a type of place that has all of these things, so you may know where this happened for me. Just think of your local quarry. After I went through my skills and was ready to go, we made our descent. The visibility was minimal. When we reached the plane it took my breath away. Before I had time to realize it, I was right above the nose, looking at the windshield from less than two feet.  I had seen the exact same scene play out in television shows or movies, but the firsthand experience pushed those to the side. It was an eerie experience for some reason. It was almost something that you could call haunting. I was seeing a plane laying underwater, covered in growth, like something left to be forgotten. Then my mind did something it probably should not have, but it is just the way my mind works sometimes. I imagined what the pilots and passengers had been like. How did this particular plane become a relic for a diving park? Had it crashed at some point? Did anyone die on board? There are wrecks throughout the world about which the answers to these questions would be “Yes.” I have seen some of them in films, but have yet to see them in person. Someday I hope to swim through passages that guests or crew members walked through at one time or another. Who knows, maybe I will still see some of the ghosts of times past walking the corridors once used for work or pleasure, now filled with water and growth, rusting away in watery graves like so many other things that have been long forgotten. Will you?

– Bear Yates

When Normal Practice Fails

Learning how to use new gear can create issues if you do not plan for problems. I was diving a new set of equipment for the first time and going through some basic skills to keep them fresh and committed to muscle memory.  Everything was going well and my dive buddy and I were about 20 minutes into our dive. We were at the local quarry that we both knew very well and we descended to 35 feet and went inside of a large bus.  While we were in the bus we were taking turns practicing skills.  It was my turn to do regulator recovery and this was my first time diving with my new regulator set that was set up with a 7-foot hose.  When I took the second stage out and tossed it to the side it actually went back behind me and was sitting on the floor of the bus on my left side.  The second stage had essentially circled around and behind me. I conducted my arm sweep making sure to lean to the right, brush my thigh and tank, and bring my arm back around to the front. On the first attempt there was no regulator to be found so I did it again, and still no regulator.  No worries, I was not panicking because I know this method works!  So I did it a third time and still had no luck.  Now I panicked. I took a quick breath and filled my mouth full of water. Realizing my error, I grabbed my octo. I took a second to regain my composure and figured out what had gone wrong.  This is why we train, and have to know our equipment!

– Chris Keon

New Gear Fear

There are hopefully very few moments in a diver’s journey that you may think, “Whew!!!” or “Man I’m glad that worked out.” I had such an incident in the mid 90’s diving at Hal’s Horrible Hole, aka 40 Fathom Grotto. I had just bought a new diving harness system that had a new weight integrated design and had been diving it many days on location.  On this particular, day while ascending from a decompression dive on a shot line from depth, one of the integrated weight pockets dislodged from its holding sleeve, slipped out, and fell. I immediately became positively buoyant. I started dumping the air from my wing and dry suit. Anyone diving at that location back then knew there were hanging underwater platforms. Fortunately, I was near one and was able to use it to help me with my new-found buoyant status. As luck would have it, my weight pocket hit my instructor on his shoulder as it fell. He was able to catch and return it so that I was able to replace it. This fix allowed me to complete my deco in a more neutral fashion. The “grotto gremlin” sure spooked me that day. On a side note, I did get rid of this particular new integrated weight system afterward.

– Darrell Adams

Training Terror

My scariest dive happened on a military training dive at night. I was carrying clothing in a dry bag in a backpack, which we had packaged to be neutrally buoyant on the surface. We started the dive and as soon as we started to descend, the dry bag compressed and all the weight in the pack became an anchor. The weight immediately took me on a ride to the bottom of the bay. Diving a Draeger rebreather on O2, a silty 60 foot bottom is not a place you want to be. We inflated our BCs and ascended to the surface where we reconfigured our gear and ditched some weight. Again, on descent, my backpack anchor took me back to the bottom. This would be excursion number two.  We surfaced again, ditched the backpack completely, and continued the dive.  At this point I was experiencing symptoms of O2 toxicity and struggling to keep up the pace.  I began overworking the rig, and in addition to the O2 toxicity risks, I began to experience hypercapnia.  Ultimately, I was so disoriented my buddy decided to end the dive.  Looking back, I was extremely lucky the results were mainly discomfort and not more severe. This was by far the scariest dive I have ever been on. Now I appreciate the luxury of being able to end a dive as needed while expanding my scuba education in the civilian world.

– Anonymous

Each of these instances shows how normal dive activities can still create circumstances in which a diver may become fearful. The reality is that we as divers must train to remain calm and to develop skill sets that help us to recognize and eliminate problems. Any dive has the potential to become a “spooky” tale for others to hear in the future, but this is also why education is essential. The more we practice skills, understand our equipment, dive, and seek further education, the more proficient we as divers can become to keep these “spooky” events nothing more than stories to tell down the road.


– Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

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