I and my long time dive buddy went cave diving over the weekend, and almost didn’t make it back. Obviously after the incident in hindsight there are things I could have done to avoid almost not getting out, but I would like to tell the story how it happened and hopefully someone might find it useful. I am not in the mood to get bashed by anyone – so use it, don’t use it! I purposely did not name my agency, or other equipment manufacturers. They are all tops!
We are both diving inspirations, I on the Vision and my buddy on his classic. Before the dive we joked that it would only be a relaxing dive because my friend hasn’t been in the cave for almost 60 days. I would do the reeling seeing that I just came back from exploring a wonderful old gold mine and would be the “most” relaxed for our 1st dive. We used air as our diluent and our max depth would not exceed 36m. We had done our open circuit training and cave courses in this old Asbestos mine, so were no strangers to the different tunnels and depths of the mine. We had done this dive a lot of times before.
Cave entrance depth – 14m
Level 1 – 17m
Level 2 – 24m
Level 3 – 36m
Bailout: EAN 28% 12L
Deco Bailout: EAN 50% 12L
I did my 1st tie off at the “Death Sign” just outside the cave entrance and proceeded to enter the cave. We probably swam between 50m and 100m in Level1 before we reached the pre determined hole going down into L2. Just before going down into L2, we clipped off our EAN50 12l slings onto the cave line. The MOD for a 50 is 21m. Life was good. As planned before the dive, we would not do the usual shortest route to level 3, and rather spend some time in L2 to do some sight seeing and take pictures with my camera. Halfway through L2 I had started using my 2nd reel. After a runtime of 40 minutes, we had done our sight seeing in L2 and decided to go down through a huge chamber we call the “h-frame” into L3. L3 was as beautiful as ever and I tied my reel off to the main line. We proceeded to follow the main line further into the cave.
At the furthest point in L3 about 300m from the cave entrance (as would be my luck) I decided to do a flush on my machine. I felt that something felt strange were my blue diluent button was supposed to be and had a quick look. The blue button was gone with only a little pin sticking out. SO THIS IS WERE MY SH%T begins.
Having never replaced or seen this blue button not in place, I proceeded to press down on the pin. Because there was no spring to get the button out again from it’s now “open” position, I banged my head into the cave ceiling within seconds. I now had a major flow of diluent pumping into my counter lungs!
Anyway this was not too bad, seeing that I really couldn’t go further up than the cave ceiling. I proceeded to bail out to my 12l EAN28 as I was taught to do. When in doubt, bail out. By this time my buddy was next to me obviously seeing all the bubbles and I proceeded to thumb the dive. My bailout regulator was giving some problems and I had a lot of water coming into my mouth while inhaling and I started choking profusely. I managed to get the choking semi under control and switched my vision controller to OC. I closed my dil cylinder and dumped out all the air from my counter lungs, but my dil cylinder just kept on filling up my lungs and obviously my buoyancy was non existent! I couldn’t figure out what the hell was happening and must admit that panic kicked in at this stage. (After the dive I found that my cylinder seal had been worn to a state that even while my cylinder’s valve is shut, there was still a strong constant flow of air escaping.) Everything happened so fast I managed to kick both my feet out of my dry suit boots while turning around.
So just to recap I was not able to properly breathe from my bailout, not able to propel myself after “losing” my fins and my counter lungs kept inflating for no “apparent” reason. I was stressed. So I proceeded to drag myself on the permanent cave line bobbing against the cave roof in L3 to where we I tied down my reel in L3. My buddy was always very close to me. We proceeded to descend from L3 to L2. Myself by hanging on to the rock face of the huge chamber to not shoot up. (I was dumping from my lungs constantly)
We just reached our tie off on L2 about 150m from my deco bailout clipped on line in L1 when my regulator decided that 80% water and 20% air was now the new formula and I started choking while I could feel the water go into my lungs. At this point I used all my energy to get to my buddy who was 2m away and grabbed his bailout regulator. To my surprise his regulator just gave water on my 1st inhale and it didn’t purge!. At this point I was pondering to give up. My lungs were full of water. The next few seconds the following went through my mind a I started to drown….
1. I thought who would be the one to come get my body out of this f$%^in cave, would it be my buddy? J
2. I started praying but stopped.
3. Thought of a lady friend J
4. Thought of the 1st James Bond movie with Daniel Craig. At the end of the movie his girlfriend drowns in an elevator. She was so calm….. What a load of BS!
My buddy’s 2nd stage had somehow lost it SCREW ON cap and diaphragm during the dive, thus not helping me at all. Luckily I managed to push down the lever opening up the cylinder to purge almost 70 bar of air directly into my lungs. This gave me time to throw up, breath, and calm a bit down. I was not going to give up! At this stage my buddy grabbed my loose hanging regulator and purged it. It worked. He dangled it in front of my eyes. I grabbed it and breathed it. It worked 100%. I caught my breath for another 30 seconds and signalled to my buddy to lead and get out of here.
I continued to drag myself on the cave line and struggled to keep my breathing normal. I knew I had very little bailout left but refused to look at my gauge – didn’t want the extra stress!! J So as my bad luck continued, I ran out of air going up in the hole from L2 to L3. My EAN50 bailout was a mere 20metres away. I went back on my loop for the next minute before I reached my 50. I got onto the 50, changed my OC bailout on my vision and got out of that cave as fast as I could!
In the cavern were we could see the light of the sun, I was bobbing still against the damn cavern roof. My buddy for the 1st time saw that I was not able to use my fins. I had a total of 20 minute deco to do. It felt like the longest ever!!!!!!!!!
I had 6 failures in the dive:
4. Bailout regulator
5. Buddy’s bailout regulator
6. Out of air
At the end of the day we both got out alive and that is the MOST IMPORTANT. In our cave course we got taught that usually after 3 failures you are dead! I didn’t dive the next day; the mood was sort of spoiled. The following day I decided I had to get back on the horse ASAP and get back in the cave. On the 5m grid doing a bubble check before entering the cave, my buddy’s primary light failed and I discovered a leak in my dry suits leg. We decided that this is enough bad luck for one weekend, J And headed home.
So now the fun part, what did I learn.
· PRACTISE SKILLS!
· Compounded stress is a bitch!
· A simple disconnect of my hose on my dill button would have done the trick. My ADV would take care of the rest.
· I don’t need dill to ascend out of the cave……. (Most important thing I didn’t think of under stress.) Could have stayed on the loop while exiting.
· 12l bailout from L3 to L1 is enough and was tested for a “working” dive. Not for a stressful dive.
· Don’t just purge my bailout regulator under water and assume it works, breathe bailout regulator at different depths.
· Get to know each and every bit of my machine
· After shocking near death experience, drinks lots of beer. It makes you think less of what could have happened. J