it happened to me
On a dive in the Red Sea, Brian Jenkins learned that divers should expect the unexpected
In December last year, when other grandparents were preparing for Christmas, my wife and I took a winter holiday to Marsa Alam in southern Egypt with a group of six friends from our local BSAC dive club. The Red Sea has always been one of our favourite areas and we have visited it with the club every year for the past ten years, usually returning to the same hotel and dive centre. We are experienced divers and have logged around 300 dives each.
The day after our arrival, we dived the house reef, a great coral reef with beautiful hard and soft corals and an abundance of marine life. We had dived it many times in the past, and for us it was home from home.
On the following five days, we joined a boat of British and German divers. The dive centre staff were having some problems with the adaptors that are required to fit the British A-clamp regulators to the cylinders. The cylinder pillars were of varying sizes, and matching adaptors to cylinders seemed to be a hit-or-miss situation – this had never been a problem to us in the previous years we had dived here. The Germans all used the DIN system, where the regulator screws straight into the pillar valve, and had no problems with setting up their gear.
We dived many fabulous sites over the next five days, had a two-day break and then dived for a further two days, rejoining the same day boat and group of people.
The last dive was at Sha’ab Sharm, a deep drop-off that we had already dived in the first week. The plan was for three buddy pairs at a time to be dropped from a Zodiac, drift along the wall and then exit the water at the day boat. My wife and I were among the first wave of six divers. We all rolled backward from the Zodiac, checked we were okay and signalled to descend.
My wife has to descend slowly at the start of a dive to equalise ear pressure, so I wait a couple of metres below until she signals okay. We signalled to each other to continue the dive and then, at 8m, I was suddenly engulfed in an explosion of bubbles. My first thought was that it was a free-flow on my octopus, so I tried to rectify it. But this was not the cause, as the bubbles continued at an alarming rate, and I was now down to 13m and sinking fast.
My buddy was trying to reach me, but fortunately, even before I could release my weight belt, one of the German divers just below me saw what was happening and rapidly came to my assistance. He brought me to the surface with his octopus to hand, in case I needed it.
At the surface, with the other divers in attendance, he continued to support me, although my Buddy jacket had enough air left to keep me buoyant. I looked at my gauge – it read ‘empty’!
The Zodiac had returned to the boat to pick up a second wave of divers, but on our signal it quickly returned to pick up my buddy and I and take us to the boat. On board, I checked my computer – it had recorded that the whole incident had taken just one minute. On later inspection, it became clear that the O-ring on the adaptor had failed. I had lost all the air from a 15-litre cylinder in that one minute. A potential tragedy was averted by the German diver’s immediate and efficient response. I believe he saved my life.
My wife and I dived the house reef the following day to restore my confidence, but there were still problems finding a compatible adaptor/cylinder combination. Now I’m back home in the UK, the question arises as to whether or not we should convert our regulators to DIN fittings, as most of our diving is now done outside the UK.
Whether I decide to change or not, the experience has shown me that, however carefully you prepare for a dive, the unexpected can happen at any time. Vigilance by all divers for all other divers (not only your buddy) is of paramount importance.