Florida Cave Deaths Focus New Attention On Safety, Training
(Originally appearing in the SEPTEMBER 2001 of Florida Scuba News)
News reports of a rash of fatal cave-diving accidents in Florida earlier this year have alarmed a number of public safety officials, suggesting there has been a radical increase in cave-diving deaths, and many instructors and diving-community members are scrambling to learn what happened so that the incidents are not repeated. Yet while the fatalities raised a well-justified red flag, not all voices are in accord that the landscape is accurately portrayed.
One such voice is that of Larry Green, Florida State Coordinator for International Underwater Cave Rescue/Recovery (IUCRR). Green’s organization serves not only as a clearinghouse for information regarding cave-diving safety and underwater rescue and recovery, but as a ready source of manpower and expertise to assist law-enforcement and rescue agencies in the conduct of their operations. As such, they are in a unique position to share data and to evaluate incident information in order to enhance future operations.
“Unfortunately, a number of incidents are inaccurately reported in an effort to get out the story in the press,” Green said. “Sometimes they’re not even cave-related. And while, in the beginning, we tried to avoid getting involved with the press, the lack of correct information made us realize it was time to address the media.”
While an increase in the state’s permanent and temporary populations, as well as an increased interest in “extreme sports”, may have lent to the perception that cave-diving deaths are proportionally on the rise, Green said he believes that “education is definitely paying off”.
Even so, he added, there is still room for improvement. And whatever causes may contribute to an accident, it all comes down to the same issue: training.
“There was a time in our training programs when we could say that there were no trained cave divers that had died,” he said. “Of course, that’s no longer true, but the vast majority of fatalities are not trained cave divers, or cave divers diving beyond their training levels.”
Green said that an important element of IUCRR training protocol is accident analysis profiles. Adhering to the guidelines that emerge from that analysis process is of immeasurable value. Common sense and discipline, from managing air properly to not going too deep to having the proper equipment and maintaining it in good working order, go a long way toward keeping divers safe.
Green also suggests that more can probably be introduced during open-water certification training that can serve as a stronger impetus to unqualified divers to stay out of regimes for which they are not trained.
“Unfortunately, the moment you tell some people they can’t do something is the moment that it becomes unsafe, and they’re tempted to push the envelope,” he explained. “But if instructors were to offer more specifics on just what happens, it may be a more effective deterrent. Otherwise, open-water divers can find themselves presented with variables they’d never been informed about: poor fin technique or buoyancy control stirring up the bottom in a confined area, and pretty soon, they can’t see to find their way out.”
“Divers that get into these situations didn’t plan on dying that day.”
The causes of the Florida accidents are still under investigation, but reports indicate that the victims were of varied qualification and experience levels.
For more information on International Underwater Cave Rescue/Recovery (IUCRR) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Used with permission