The accident rate within diving is something in the range of 2 per 100,000 dives.
Which is not a bad safety record.
But it is more luck than actual safety standards. And, more chillingly, one must remember that dive accidents frequently don’t leave you with a cool-looking scar and a good story.
I’ve spent the morning reading a court filing a bunch of people have sent me that detailed a horrific accident with legal precision. An accident sourced from protection failures at absolutely every level.
It was an anti-perfect confluence of events that led to a woman drowning in terror.
But what I couldn’t stop thinking about, worrying about, was how familiar it all was. How I have personally and frequently seen DMs, instructors, boat crew, shops, agencies, the community engaging in each and every behavior detailed in the filing.
The normalization of deviance displayed in every bad decision. The corners cut. The deliberate bending of the spirit of standards to suit today’s purposes. The inexperienced or uninformed decisions and practices. Ignoring known gear failures or poor site conditions or diver inexperience. The self-preservation. The goal-oriented blindness. The sense of, “Of course we’ll get away with it, we always have before.”
Sometimes these deviancies happen on their own. Sometimes they’re combined with others. Or, in this one incident, they all line up together and get that one extra plink that pushes it all over the edge, so to speak.
The majority of the time, 99,998 times, it doesn’t happen, though.
2 in 100,000 might not make it back to the surface (though this number includes DCI or IPE or any other number of non-fatal injuries as well). But how many dives worldwide end with, “Well that was bloody close?”
Or how many people finish their Open Water class completely ignorant of the amount of danger they were placed in by people and organization who should have been taking care of them?
How many divers never speak up about how they felt uncomfortable for fear of seeming too naive or being a crybaby? And, lacking any functional knowledge or exposure to what is actually supposed to be done, what could they possibly use as a frame of reference?
Thank god the safety record is as good as it is.
But it’s only luck.
The whole dynamic of the instructor/student relationship depends on trust. The student must trust that their instructor knows how to and will take care of them. That trust needs to be conveyed up the line from instructor, to employer, to agency, to community.
In this case, that trust was betrayed at every level.
And in how many more cases that we never, ever hear about because catastrophe was escaped, no matter how narrowly?
How many people are about to get in the water all over the world this very moment having been assured by the DM, “It’ll probably be fine?” How many times have you?
Of the entire 112 pages, almost every line of which I could dissect ad nauseum, I find the line below the most compelling. Yeah, it says PADI, but let’s not get carried away with agency bashing it could easily be any acronym.
The full text of the brief can be read here: