By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Mount and others also recommend that divers be certified to dive in a particular region only, or have cross-environmental training. Open-water ocean dives won't necessarily prepare you for freshwater diving in the Midwest, where lakes and ponds have limited visibility and colder temperatures. Similarly, Mount says, dive instruction in either environment usually isn't adequate preparation for the intricacies of West Coast diving, which sometimes requires entering the ocean through heavy surf.
Concerns such as cross-environmental training, recertification, and stress management occupy the minds of dive professionals at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, a rotating assemblage of frauds and unscrupulous dive professionals offer insufficient instruction and jeopardize diving safety in the interest of the bottom line. "Poor instruction and poor service is not so much with dive shops but with fly-by-night instructors," says Ron McManmon, owner of Team Divers in Miami Beach. Most divers in South Florida tell tales of interlopers who exploit the industry's good reputation:
|Courses with only one pool session, when industry standards call for at least three or four.
|Three-day courses, while standards usually demand no fewer than five.
|Instructors who sell certification cards to unschooled divers.
|Dive stores who certify unqualified students simply because they bought equipment from the stores.
|Dive shops and charter boat operators who don't check certification cards regularly.
|Operators who go out in rough weather, leave their boats unattended, or leave divers behind.
"I used to work for one dive operation that would take their people out in the boat totally untrained," instructor Rick Smith says. "That's like taking someone to the bunny slope skiing and saying, `Well you've done that twice. Now you're ready for the black diamond trails.'"
Dishonest and careless dive instructors are frequently blameworthy for an alarmingly high number of deaths, says plaintiff's lawyer Kevin Malone. In 1990, for instance, six of 91 U.S. scuba fatalities occurred in a beginning scuba class, according to the Divers Alert Network. "Two-thirds of my cases are people who die as students in their scuba class," Malone says. "The reason for that, invariably, is lack of supervision by instructors over the class. It's not the standards per se that are the problems. It's the individual instructors not doing the job." By extension, Malone explains, the various instructional agencies are not as diligent as they should be in supervising their instructors. "The number of instructors that have accidents is very, very low, but I've seen some instructors who have had multiple accidents or deaths in their resume."
All the instructors Malone has sued were representatives of at least one of the largest instructional agencies, primarily the Professional Association of Dive Instructors. "In fairness to PADI, that may be because they certify more people than anyone else," Malone offers, "but it may be because they are more of a certification mill than anyone else."
Diver inexperience lurks behind many deaths and accidents, and dive professionals say Figuerola's was no different. In fact, says Divers Alert Network medical coordinator Joel Dovenbarger, one of four U.S. scuba fatality victims in 1990 had completed between six and twenty dives, and another 12.5 percent had five or fewer dives. Expert divers say Allen and Figuerola seemed to have made a series of poor decisions: They were poorly weighted, drifted down-current, strayed too far from the boat, and foolishly tried to swim the distance back. In addition, dive professionals say, Figuerola failed to switch to her snorkel when she broke the surface, for some reason deflated her buoyancy control vest, and ran out of air. Says dive instructor Rick Smith: "With the equipment on the market today, you should be able to get back to the boat. You could inflate the b.c. [vest], ditch the weight belt, and you float to Africa like that. You'd have to want to drown."
Finally, one of the last safeguards - the buddy system - was eliminated when Allen unwittingly swam away from his girlfriend. "Twenty feet might as well have been 100 feet in my opinion," says Miami Beach dive-shop owner McManmon. "Proper precautions have been eliminated where the buddy system is compromised, particularly in a current. They should've been in verbal communication."
Regret haunts Allen these days, as he continually reconsiders the tragedy that befell Figuerola, trying to make some sense of a senseless death. His story of their scuba adventure - from the first moment they spoke about diving to their final fateful swim back to the boat - is littered with "should haves" and "if onlys." "My friends say, `Larry, why do you keep beating yourself over the head about this? You've been through this traumatizing experience. Give yourself a break,'" he says. "But I just keep talking about it."
With lawyers for the Figuerola family and the dive professionals now burrowing into the evidence in search of blame, a legal resolution to Figuerola's death may not come anytime soon. While he welcomes an inquiry for the positive effect it may have on scuba safety, Allen doesn't relish the thought of retelling the story again and again and again. Meanwhile, he gropes for a more profound sense of closure to the tragedy. "I feel I shouldn't leave it like this," he sighs, staring off somewhere beyond the walls of his office. "I feel that I should go back for another dive, even if it's just one more time." But the thought alone seems to test his resolve, and, for a brief moment, Allen struggles for his next word.