Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gary Kessler's Heroic Adventure aboard Underwater Explorers charter on March 16, 2014.

Just a little background information on Gary. He is a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and a PADI Open Water instructor. Gary has been an active member of our dive center for some time now and we thank him for allowing us to use this story in both our newsletter and this blog.

Gary tells us his accounts of the events as they happened...

So, my captain's license rating is for inland waters -- such as Lake Champlain -- and I would eventually like a raise in grade to cover near coastal waters, but that means an additional 360 days on near coastal waters! Anyway, to that end, Kevin Metz from Underwater Explorers in Boynton Beach, FL said that I could spend a few days with him during my Spring Break this week.

Now, for more explanation -- Kevin runs a six-pack boat, meaning that he cannot have on board more than six paying customers. He is also allowed one crew member; in this case, a dive master named John. PLUS, he took me, as a captain-in-training. Today, we had a full complement of divers meaning that there were nine people on board. Today, per Kevin, was the first time that he has ever had nine people on his boat. Today was very windy and somewhat rough out on the ocean. No matter, out we went -- as did other dive boats -- and we made our 40 minute ride out to the dive site, which was a wreck sitting in about 105' with the deck at about 85'. We put John, the dive master, in the water at about 0905 to secure a descent/ascent line to the wreck. We put the six other divers in the water at about 0910.

At about 0930, the first diver -- a guy named Richie -- came back up and we picked him up. At about 0938, we saw other divers' bubbles approaching the surface, and I said to Kevin, "Ok, there are a couple of divers. No, three... four." As we watched them surface, one of them started slapping the water. Now, for you non-divers... the proper signal upon surfacing is to face the boat and put one or both hands on the top of your head, indicating the OK signal. Slapping the water means that something has gone terribly wrong. So, we see the slapping and my first thought is, "These people do not know how to signal a dive boat." Then, one femtosecond later, I realize "Oh crap, these people do know how to signal a dive boat" as I noticed that three of the divers were way closer to each other than would ordinarily be the case. As we approached the divers in the boat, Kevin and I could both see that one diver was being held up by the others and that he appeared unconscious. I immediately went below to grab the oxygen kit. By the time I got back to the deck, Kevin had swung the stern to the divers, and he and Richie had gotten the unconscious diver -- Micah -- on board. Kevin had ascertained that Micah was pulseless and apneic, which I also confirmed. I was on Micah's head by this time and turned to Kevin and said, "Oh, one more thing I forgot to tell you about myself. I worked 25 years on an ambulance."

Kevin returned to the helm to maintain control of the boat, what with the high waves, and to recover the other three divers. I taught Richie, in real time, how to do chest compressions (*not* the first time that I have done that in the field!). Anyway, every compression pushed more water out of Micah and I did some mouth-to-mouth although it wasn't that effective early on because of the water. [[ What we found out later was that Micah had been advised to start his return up the line when he was half-way through his tank at 1500 psi. Although diving Nitrox, one goes through your gas quickly at 90' -- I dove this same site with Kevin 2-3 weeks ago and I only got a 40-45 minute dive. Anyway, at about 70', Micah showed one of his buddies his gauge which showed 1000 psi. She signaled to go up and at 54' he signaled that he was out of air. Our guess was that he was anxious about some aspect of the dive and was just blowing through his air. Anyway, he signaled out-of-air and another of his buddies tried to give Micah his spare regulator but Micah wouldn't keep it in his mouth. Seeing that Micah was unresponsive, his two buddies made an emergency ascent from 54'. ]]

Anyway, after about 5 minutes of CPR, Micah started to respond(!). He was not responding to verbal commands but he was clearly breathing on his own and, of course, had a pulse. During this time, Kevin had called the Coast Guard. A nearby dive boat came to our aid to pick up our last two divers. Meanwhile, SeaTow had a rubber boat nearby and offered to take the rescuers in because he could go much faster than our dive boat.
By the time SeaTow got to us a few minutes later, Micah could squeeze his hand upon command, his hand grip was strong and equal, he could follow our voice, and I started taking vitals. SeaTow arrived, and DM John and I got in the boat with Micah, who was no longer dead weight. We kept him on O2 and monitored him and kept improving. SeaTow, indeed, made much better time than the dive boat! As we approached the Boynton Beach Inlet, both Coast Guard and Palm County Sheriff's boats were coming out and they were hauling -- both were at at least a 45 degree angle as they cleared the inlet; they saw us and got in line behind us as we went in to the sheriff's dock. By this time, Micah was pretty responsive, at least to name. He didn't know where he was but he did remember diving. We transferred him to the paramedics, and as they did their stuff, he was able to verbally answer questions.

About 25 minutes after we got to shore with SeaTow -- and the paramedics had already left -- our dive boat arrives. And, that, of course, is the beginning of a very long process!!! So, the event started at about 0940. It's now 1040. USCG, Palm Co. Sheriff, FL Fish & Game, and local police are there. We all get interviewed by all the cops. Media arrives and none us agree to talk on camera. USCG does an inspection of Kevin's boat and interview Kevin. Sheriff interviews Kevin. One by one, the agencies leave. It is now almost noon. John, Kevin, and me -- the crew -- are instructed to stay on the boat and await the USCG Safety Officer. AND, to not eat or drink, as we have to have a breath test -- which, BTW, must happen within two hours or as soon as practical. It's now been been closing on three hours.

Safety Officer arrives. We fill out statements and how try to find a cop with a breathalyzer. Although we are docked at the Sheriff's pier and there is a substation there, there is no sheriff to be found. Safety Officer tells us to go to any police station ASAP. During this time, Kevin had left all of the instruments on on his boat -- meaning that both batteries were dead and we couldn't start the engine. We couldn't get a charge right there so he asked a buddy to come give us a tow. So, we get the tow, back to the dock... and by now, it is 1530 and six hours after the event. We dutifully drive to Boynton Beach PD where we are told that no one can administer a breath test. We are told to try the sheriff. We call the sheriff's office and they tell us to go to the main station, which we do... a 25 minutes drive. We arrive and they say that we have to go to the adjacent jail. Jail tells us to talk to probation -- TOMORROW!!! It will be 24 hours after the event before we get our "within two hours" breath test!!! [[ In my opinion, if a breath test soon after an incident is so important -- and it could well be -- USCG or Sheriff should equip their marine units with a testing device. But, I digress... ]]

Anyway, the next day we also needed to get our drug test. We had 32 or 36 hours to get that done.
We have had no word about Micah's status but, as Kevin observed, "he was brought back on the boat dead and left the boat alive." Just fortunate, maybe, that today he had a ninth person on board!

Update: March 23, 2014 - The victim does not have any brain damage but there are some respiratory issues, although the expectation is that he will recover. The object lesson, obviously, is to watch our gauges!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014 - Ft. Lauderdale dive with Instructor Ryan Walton

Sunday March 16, 2014

Dive Location: Ft. Lauderdale
Seas Projected 2-3’ / Actual 3-5’
Visibility: 60’

Dive Site 1 – The Rodeo Shipwreck
Dive Site 2 – The Copenhagen wreck / reef drift

Heading out to the dive site we had the 2-3’ seas that were projected. Everyone was geared up and ready to dive before leaving the inlet. It’s always amazing strolling past the massive cruise ships and multi million dollar homes. The highlight yacht we went past was Stephen Spielberg’s floating mansion.

As we made our way on approach to the planned wreck on the itiniary, another local charter was already on it and the seas were starting to get bigger. Our captain called over to there’s to a response of “our captain is in the water.” Therefore we moved a mile north to the “Rodeo.”

During the Decent it was really cool to watch from about 30’ as the wreck came into view. A massive Wreck, slightly listed to its starboard side still lays completely intact. We tied off to the bow and began to explore. I took note of the large Spanish hogfish all over the wreck and the perfect “swim through” for newer wreck divers. Where the wreck laid in the sand was about 125’ but the majority of the wreck can be seen around 85.’

The second dive was the Copenhagen wreck which had run aground and scattered across the reef in about 30’ of water. The ledge was at less than 20.’ We dropped in immediately on top of the remains of the wreck scattered across the oceans floor. The light shining through reflecting off the live rock and coral was a cool sight since normally our dives are 60-80’. There were lots of Angelfish, butterfly fish, a massive goby I wasn’t familiar with and of course all your favorite inverts like arrow crabs and banded shrimp!

Next time we’re in Lauderdale the goal is to hit the Captain Dan or the Tenaco Towers. Stay Tuned for all our awesome upcoming trips!!

April 19/20 – AWARE Shark Conservation Class
Cost - $200 Includes 2 tank charter
April 19th Knowledge Session in store / April 20th West Palm 2-tank trip

April 13/27 – Rescue Diver Class
Cost - $350