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Rebreather Incident




This article discusses salient issues associated with the incident and
recovery referenced here:  March 10, 2008 - Devils System, Ginnie Springs, High Springs, Gilcrest County, FL



Fatality at Devil’s Ear, March 2008

   by Lamar Hires

The recovery team compared notes and finalized our conclusions concerning the recent incident at Ginnie Springs.   Our conclusions are based on the facts available and assumptions based on evidence retrieved from the victim and the equipment.  While there are a number of scenarios that could be plausible, only a few are consistent with the evidence we evaluated. The recovery team had both the expertise and experience with the equipment and diving style of the deceased to draw these conclusions.

Normally a recovery report is not followed by a summary such as this but we feel the nature of the incident and the impact to the local cave diving community warrants it.

The victim’s dive plan was extreme by any standards:  go to the end of the line on a rebreather, remove it and proceed on with side mount thru some very tight restrictions to lay line and survey passage beyond the end of the line. Something every explorer wants to do. We feel he accomplished this because we found survey data and an empty reel on the victim.

The evidence supports the fact that he used more gas than he should have on the excursion after dropping the rebreather. The victim may have located and lined passage and surveyed it on a set of HP 100 steel cylinders at an average depth of 105’. Looking at the download off the computer and knowing the average time to get to the restriction we suspect he spent an hour beyond this point.

He returned to the rebreather chased by a cloud of silt which engulfed him and deteriorated the visibility for other teams in the cave system at the time.  We aren’t sure of the sequence of events once he returned to the rebreather because of the state of the rebreather.

When leaving a rebreather unattended in a cave, it should be handled like a stage bottle that is left behind:  gas shut down and hoses secured. We believe this is not the case here.  We think he left on the oxygen bottle that was feeding the solenoid, and the set point left at .7 rather than being switched to manual so the solenoid would not fire. We believe he took little care in positioning the unit to keep moisture away from the sensors. The combination of the items above started a cascade of events to flood the loop in the hour he was away from the unit. The sensors got moisture on them and started reading low, the solenoid started firing to compensate, and the counterlungs filled and started burping air out the overpressure valve and taking in some water with every belch.

He returns to a flooded unit but may not realize it until he had it on.  We assume this because he had connected the off board diluent  back to the loop. At this point, he uses the little gas he has left to flush the flooded loop and realized it was useless. Both bailout regulators were deployed and the wrist controller was dangling.

The visibility must have been zero and he was totally disoriented because the location where he dropped the rebreather and the 80 cu. ft. safety bottle at the end of the gold line were only 50’ apart. There are some questions that can’t be answered.

Why did he take the time to retrieve the rebreather when a safety bottle was only 50’ away and he had three aluminum 80 staged in the system, plenty of gas to get back to the entrance? He would have still had to deal with a decompression hit since his bailout oxygen bottle was open and empty.

This was not a rebreather fatality but one of very bad choices.  There is no training for removal and leaving a rebreather during a cave dive. The deceased had no formal training or experience to make the decisions that were made. He was CCR cave certified in November of 2007. This would indicate he did not have the experience needed to experiment with this type of dive.  We suspect gas management on the side mount bottles was also violated, he had no formal side mount training.  It’s the only way to explain not making it back to the 80 cuft safety bottle.  Talking to other divers about the victim and the dive, he was more interested in exploration than following the safety rules learned from the death of others.  I write this only to let everyone know, safety comes first.

After telling Dan Lins about the ordeal he summed it up for today’s cave diving fatalities.

“In the past we lost cave divers because we didn’t have the technology, today we have the technology but lose cave divers to lack of experience. “

Ginnie Springs is very concerned about the cave divers visiting the park. Ginnie Springs Park is a recreational diving park. NO EXTREME DIVING is the new motto for diving activity at Ginnie Springs. Divers are guilty until proven innocent under the new motto; violators will lose the privilege to dive for an undetermined period of time.

When diving Devil’s Ear, be respectful of other divers; no digging, or any activities that give concern to other divers such a drop in visibility due to silting.  Be respectful of the cave; no damaging the cave in attempts to create passage or make it bigger. We need to conserve what we have. If this doesn’t work then we may lose the privilege to ride a DPV and then solo diving; after that well there won’t be any cave diving.

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