IT HAPPENED TO ME
Stuck In a Trolley
A low-visibility dive left Nick Lyon with an unusual escape scenario that doesn’t often crop up in the training manuals
It was a cold New Year’s Day, and I was preparing for the traditional dive in Torquay Harbour, Devon. In order to entice us into the less than welcoming water, bottles containing raffle tickets had been thrown into the harbour; each ticket represented a prize to be collected in a nice warm pub after the dive. With visibility usually being a few centimetres, we tended to enter the water in pairs, then separate and search the harbour bottom solo by touch.
We kitted up and jumped in. As usual, it wasn’t long before the visibility was wiped out. I found myself groping my way across the silty sea bed at 3m, unable to see. I had managed to locate a mooring chain and briefly bumped into my buddy before he disappeared in a cloud of silt.
Then I experienced something strange – it felt as though my fins were no longer pushing me forward. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I kicked harder
but nothing happened. I just couldn’t understand it, so I thought I should let the silt settle to see what was going on. As the murk gradually cleared, I began to make out what looked like a grid in front of me. Looking up, to the left and right, it was all around me. What was it? Then it struck me. I had inadvertently managed to swim straight into an inverted shopping trolley through the hinged gate at the back.
I couldn’t remember anything in my training that covered this eventuality. I tried to backfin, but I didn’t budge.
My trusty ABLJ was wedged behind the ‘gate’ and I was stuck fast. Then something caught my eye. The last 50 bar of my gauge was marked in orange and there was a black line across it – I only had 30 bar left. The situation was serious.
I took stock of the situation. I couldn’t move, I was under the water and running out of air. The panic started to rise in my chest. I wondered whether I should just take my regulator out of my mouth, because I didn’t like the idea of my chest getting tighter and tighter. But then it occurred to me that I didn’t want to die – I realised that I had to move.
I knew what I needed was buoyancy, so I tried to reach my weight belt to ditch it and give myself some lift without using air, but I couldn’t get my hand to the buckle as my elbows were jammed up against the sides of my metal prison. I could, however, reach my ABLJ’s direct feed, so I squeezed the button hard, rapidly filling the ABLJ. Miraculously, the trolley moved. But it was not far enough.
I knew my air was now almost gone and I had to work harder. I strained and squirmed and amazingly found myself kneeling up on the harbour bottom. Still in the trolley, but in with a chance!
Without thinking too much about it, I scraped my fin straps down with the opposite foot, kicked off my fins, staggered to my feet and without stopping to think too much about a plan, started walking. But now I could move, where should I go?
I knew there were some steps by the harbour wall and I had to find them. I slowly plodded forward, totally focused on staying upright. If I fell now, I doubted if I could get up again. Then, bang! I walked straight into the harbour wall – but where were the steps? Left or right? If I walked the wrong way, I could well have walked to my death. I turned left. I don’t know why.
At this point, I had so little air left that the regulator started to tighten. Then the wall disappeared. I had reached the steps cut into the wall! I strode onto the first step and a new fear struck me. What if I fell backwards now? I was shaking with effort but knew I had to keep going.
So up I went, emerging from the water with a shopping trolley wedged onto my upper body and my friends not able to believe what they were seeing. Some laughed, some just stared open-mouthed.
I spat out my regulator and took the best gulp of air I had ever breathed.
After a considerable struggle, I was freed, and never was a post-dive pint more rapidly swallowed.