Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 98-F16, 1998 Nov; :1-5
On May 19, 1998, one male fire fighter/Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) diver (the victim) assigned to the fire department's diving squad drowned during a river search in an attempt to recover the bodies of two civilians. The victim and his SCUBA partner, both fully equipped with diving gear and a rope, entered the swift, murky river to assist the fire department's Air and Sea Rescue divers, who were already in the river. The victim and his partner entered the river at the location where the two civilians were reported to have gone down to perform an independent sweep search pattern. The search lasted approximately 10 to 15 minutes at an approximate depth of 25 to 30 feet. Due to zero visibility and the underwater current, the victim and his partner decided to surface and return to the staging area where they changed over to their underwater communication masks and received further instructions from the dive supervisor. Once they returned to the staging area, the dive tender (back -up diver) changed their tanks, assisted with the removal of their gear, provided Gatorade to drink, and placed a 50 foot long, 4-inch round air float (rubber-jacketed fire hose) from shore to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter that had just arrived. After a brief conversation with the dive supervisor, the divers decided to remove their SCUBA gear and free float to the Coast Guard cutter using the 4-inch float as a guide and flotation device, determining this would be the easiest way to enter the boat since it did not have a swim platform. Wearing his weight belt, the victim began his free float to the boat, holding on to his Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), tank, and the 4-inch air float as flotation devices. The weight belt consisted of three 10-pound lead weights secured around his waist. As the victim was approaching the boat he lost grip of the flotation devices and instantly went under the water due to the 30-pound weight belt that he did not release. His partner immediately went down after him, free diving with just his wet suit which created a buoyancy problem and limited his dive depth. After two attempts to reach the victim, he surfaced and called for assistance from the Air and Sea Rescue divers. One diver from the Air and Sea Rescue team descended to the area where the victim went down and located him. As the victim was pulled close to the water surface, the victim's partner grabbed him. The Air and Sea diver lost his grip on the victim while adjusting his own equipment, and because of the 30-pound weight belt around the victim's waist, the victim's partner was unable to hold on to him, and he descended for a second time. The victim was located and pulled from the water approximately 10 to 15 minutes later by the police rescue divers. The victim received immediate medical attention on shore before being loaded into the Air and Sea Rescue helicopter which transported him to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar incidents, fire departments should: Ensure that whenever divers remove their diving gear, the first piece of equipment to be removed is their weight belt; ensure that divers and their dive partners complete equipment inspections each time they enter the water; and ensure that whenever a dive boat is being used it is equipped with an adequate diving ladder or platform for the specific operation.