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ccr accident
CCR Accident – A Near Miss

Written by Dora Farkas

06/03/2021

This story is about an experienced tec diver.

He is lucky to still be with us and as far as I know, he continued diving. Hopefully, we can learn from the mistakes. The story is quite a few years old now. CCR accidents can happen despite the units are very safe these days.
It was an amazing week of technical diving in Malta.
This group of divers came for a tec week, diving the deep wrecks around. Their depth varied between 60 to 100 plus metres. On the previous day of the accident, they had their deepest dive of the week to 115 m. Therefore for the next day, they planned an “easy” 75 m. It was a hot day and there was some current at the dive site.
 
After throwing the shot line the skipper had to go round a few times to make sure that the line is fixed and there was a support diver who went down first to tie the line to the wreck. The group was ready to go they already did their pre-jump checks, but then had to wait for the signal that the dive site is prepared.
 
Finally, they got the green light and since it was hot they couldn’t wait to get in the water. They jumped in one after the other and to avoid the current they had to start descending quickly. Around 5-8 metres they stopped for a quick check to make sure everybody is fine.
But one of them was missing.
They spotted their buddy very quickly on the surface floating lifelessly. All reacted immediately and fortunately, the dive boat had a lift so so they could get the diver very quickly out of the water. After some BLS, he started breathing. The skipper immediately called for an evacuation and the diver got to the hospital in a very short time. He recovered fully.
 
 

 

 

What happened?

To understand I have to get into a little bit of how rebreathers are working. If you already know, just skip this part.

CCR is designed to recirculate the exhaled breath of the diver,

pass it through a special lime that removes the carbon dioxide. Then it reaches the sensors which measure the oxygen content and tells the unit to replace the amount of oxygen used up. With this method, you can dive for long hours with only two small cylinders.

In one of them, there is pure oxygen, the other one called the diluent which is air or trimix according to the depth.

In Open Circuit diving you choose your bottom gas to have a maximum of 1.4 partial pressure of oxygen on the bottom phase of the dive. With 16% of oxygen in the twin set, which is still breathable on the surface, you can dive up to 77 m. CCR divers are using usually 1.3 partial pressure. Long story short for the same depth they would use much less than 16% as diluent. The machine keeps up the oxygen content of the breathed gas anyway.

So what happened here:

After already finishing the pre-dive checks, the divers had to wait for quite a long time. In the meantime, the rebreather was running, using up the oxygen to keep the partial pressure steady on the surface.

The diver to make sure that his unit does not empty the oxygen tank – simply closed it.

This is a quite normal procedure, but in this case, it was not really necessary. Usually, divers doing it if they have a hybrid unit that gives a continuous O2 flow. The common units just stop adding oxygen after reaching a preset ppO2, so you can leave the CCR machine with the tanks open and they won’t empty themselves. What was definitely not normal that when they get the green light to go he forgot to open it. When he started to breathe from the unit, the oxygen level dropped rapidly. After probably a few breaths he just fell unconscious.

Now you would say: oh it should not have happened. You are right. However, with the heat sitting there in the drysuit, the rocking of the boat got him distracted. Also after the tough dive of the previous day, they were a bit too relaxed going on a “routine” dive.

The rescue

Luckily their training kicked in,

the rest of the team didn’t just rush down to the wreck, (as many times I have seen) they stopped to check on each other. Therefore they found the injured diver very quickly, and the prompt action with immediate CPR have helped the diver restart breathing.

In this case, the story has a happy ending. But it was a very close call. What would you have done differently? Be honest: have you ever had a close call yourself? 

There is no 100% sure that you can avoid accidents, either on CCR or on open circuit.

What you can do is get proper training, because there is only downwards in knowledge after.

Keep practising your skills, and play scenarios in your head, so if anything happens, you are as ready as you can be.

What is your method to keep your knowledge and skills fresh? When was the last time you went for a course or training session? Looking forward to hearing your stories in the comments.

 

3 Comments
  1. SF-Steph

    Would not call it a close call, but once got into trouble after forgetting to open my diluent tank.
    Thus with ADV inop, at a depth of about 4 or 5 M, I was finding myself in a OoG Situation. Relatively new to CCR diving (something about 35 h) and pretty shocked about what was going on, moving left hand to the tank valve for checking and opening (what is often tought to CCR Rookies) did not come to my mind. What in fact never should come in any CCR Diver’s mind, because in this situation and diving with a hypoxic diluent, refilling the Loop with these means dealing no gas against lethal wrong gas.
    So switching my BOV to OC and breathing out of the connected travel gas bailout cylinder was the most simple and most sufficient solution of my problem. On CC I had lost my breathing gas within seconds, OC I regained it within seconds. As much as I did wrong pre-dive with my rebreather, I did right with my OC
    bailout planing. That lets me think not having experienced a close call that day. But surely something like a close call to a close call so to speak when thinking about what could have happend if – whyever – bailout gas would not have flowen?
    Bailout is life saving. Taking it’s supply strategy, total amount calculation and Plan/TTS decompression runtime seriously is what I advice to anyone who als for my oppinion.
    I agree that modern CCR units became much more well-working and safer as CCRs were 15 or 20 years ago. But being complex lies in their Nature what makes Them a

  2. SF-Steph

    …makes them prone to human errors.

    That forces to conclusion that in CCR diving there is always a certain element of risk with us. Our efforts should rather be aimed to better awareness and softskills like learning to feel humbled (latest at explorer level) than stupid skill drill fetishism. Wrong skill can also kill as seen above.

    Regards,
    Stephan

    • Dora Farkas

      Thank you for your comment. Yes I agree, complacency and human error is the biggest problem.

Unfortunately due to the high number of spam I had to change and not have to log in to comment. 🙁 sorry for the inconvenience

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