DIVING FOR CULPRITS: BLAME HIM
In response to Kirk Semple's "Deep Trouble" (February 26), I would like to do my best to stand up for and defend a sport that is proven to be both safe and educational.
I must say that I feel very sorry about the loss of Tania Figuerola. However, Lawrence Allen had better stop pointing his finger and face up to the fact that he was more at fault than anyone for her untimely death. As an instructor for the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (NASDS) and for the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), I know what I am talking about.
First, it appears that Mr. Allen's background as a personal injury lawyer makes him try to shift the blame to everyone and everything involved in the incident: the course, the instructor, the captain, the boat, the water, the air, the weather, et cetera - everything but himself.
Second, he knew Tania was unsure of herself and was not strong in the water. Yet he called every dive shop on his list until he found one that was taking divers out. He even states that he was surprised. If the weather was as bad as he says it was, he should have made his own decision not to go diving. Once aboard the dive boat, he could have at least stayed with the instructor who offered to take them down with his class.
Third, they both used rental equipment! Novice divers need to train in and use their own gear. It is written in the NASDS class structure that scuba gear is life-support equipment and that the user must be extremely familiar with its use. It is not like borrowing a volleyball.
Fourth, if Mr. Allen is so "fanatically" studious, why did he break every basic, and I mean basic, rule in the book? He was improperly weighted. He did not monitor his or his buddy's air and time. He swam the entire twenty minutes of the dive down-current. How could he expect to successfully return to the boat against the current? Then, finally, he left his buddy! If he had gleaned nothing else from the course, he should have grasped that you don't leave your buddy. It is reiterated in any certification course time and time again. This is why Tania never made her way back to the boat.
This is not rocket science. Many people the world over, of varying ages with different physical and mental aptitudes, are excellent divers because they just follow the rules. We as instructors can only present and explain the information, then test the students on it. We cannot understand it for them, nor can we be held responsible for those who refuse to follow the basic rules.
My apologies to Lawrence - I am just calling it like I see it.
A. Jackson Perrault III
DIVING FOR CULPRITS: BLAME THEM
As an avid diver and a Professional Diving Instructors Council trainer of diving instructors, I take to heart your implying that "diving can kill you." I and my colleagues are saddened any time an accident occurs. Most of us teach because we love to dive. Our salaries are hardly Wall Street.
Ms. Figuerola was hardly an experienced diver. She also had problems on Mr. Allen's certification dives, and she was "petrified" to clear her mask in her refresher course. The divers made several errors, and Ms. Figuerola had amphetamines in her system. Their air supply indicates that they were possibly nervous and breathing heavy. They began their dive with the current (a mistake) and Mr. Allen separated from his buddy (rule number one - never dive alone).
To think for a minute that the scuba industry is profit-motivated is ridiculous. Yes, the industry has a few people doing the wrong things, such as simplifying courses, not checking C-cards, and skirting the standards set by the agencies, but in this case Mr. Allen was certified at a local community college. I doubt his course was anything other than complete.
The implication that we need government regulation is absurd. The sport of diving is safer than walking down South Beach on any given night (just check the police log after a weekend). Yes, there are going to be accidents (tried driving lately?), and we cannot watch over everyone, but the ultimate first rule in diving is that if you don't feel comfortable, don't go!
If you wanted to deliver a black eye in the beginning of our season, it was a nice try. I will add your story to the others I show each of my students (yes, I tell them there is a slight risk) and I'm sure it will help them to understand why it is important not to deviate from the rules of safe scuba.
I doubt seriously Mr. Semple is a diver, as he would have seen the inadequacies in his article. It is said that we fear that which we don't understand. If he wishes to try safe scuba in a controlled setting, I am available to offer him an introduction to scuba experience.
Matt Blalock, owner
Wet N' Deep Dive Services
DIVING FOR CULPRITS: A TRAINING DERAILMENT
Congratulations to Kirk Semple on a well-researched article. As an avid diver, dive master, and a member of the National Association of Underwater Instructors, I would like to share some observations concerning the unfortunate circumstances on which the article is based.
Improper and/or inadequate training are probably among the leading causes of diving accidents and attrition from the sport. Unfortunately, because of the commercialization of the sport, certain training agencies have relaxed their certification requirements in the interests of selling equipment and making the sport more enjoyable. Basic skills and concepts are rarely reinforced to a degree of proficiency, and the results are frightfully apparent in the numbers of incompetent divers one sees in the water today. Many instructors will argue against the rigorous training regimens of the not-so-distant past from the standpoint of being too mentally and physically stressful, as well as being too time-consuming. While scuba diving is a relatively easy sport to master, there are situations and conditions (often unexpected) which demand strong physical and mental abilities. Only through a combination of thorough training, practice, and good health can someone develop the confidence required to be comfortable underwater.
Most certification agencies provide and recommend advanced levels of training. As Tom Mount indicated, different types of diving and conditions require different equipment and specialized training. All divers, and especially novice divers, need to be aware of their limitations, and should seek to further and diversify their training.
Semple also quoted an instructor as saying that a good dive instructor or boat captain should be able to detect and prevent accidents before they happen. A good instructor should make sure students are not only able to master, but also feel comfortable in performing, basic skills, both in a pool and in open water. A good dive-boat captain, on the other hand, should brief passengers on techniques to be followed in diving from that particular boat, on characteristics of the dive sites, and prevailing water conditions.
It is up to the diver, however, to evaluate whether he/she is physically and mentally capable of making a dive. Any apprehension due to a physical ailment, water conditions, or any other cause should be reason enough to abort a dive. Unfortunately, one's ego often foils this process, and results in individuals making poor decisions and/or overextending their capabilities. In the case of Tania Figuerola and Lawrence Allen, it appears that this may have been a factor. The other possibility is that they had not been properly briefed by the captain prior to making the dive. Had proper procedure been followed, they would have inflated their b.c.'s. (only upon surfacing), dropped their weight belts, stuck together, and waited calmly on the surface for help, instead of trying to swim back to the boat against the current.
I sincerely hope this article is picked up on by the dive community, and that dive-shop operators use better judgment and control in issuing certification cards in the future.
Kent O. Bonde
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