Deadly Diving

No DivingIt’s a rough way to start 2014 when you’re posting about a tragic double fatality. What’s even worse is that they were avoidable fatalities. You can read the news reports.[1][2][3] My condolences to the family, but hopefully, we as the diving community, can learn from what happened here and work to prevent it happening in the future. In the past, I’ve posted on the topic of training vs experience. Although I don’t know the full details here, I strongly suspect that this may have been influenced by the unfortunate tendency of people to do things they aren’t adequately prepared or trained for without thought for consequences to themselves or others. So what went wrong? What can we learn?

From what I’ve gathered, what follows is the scenario that unfolded. The father, Darrin Spivey, was a certified diver; his son, Dillon Sanchez, was not. Spivey was apparently known to local cave diver Robert Brooks, who apparently had told him at some point that one day they’d be calling him (Brooks) to recover his (Spivey) body. Both father and son received new diving equipment for Christmas, and wanted to test it out. They decided to dive at Eagle Nest Sink, a complex cave diving location with a reputation for being difficult for trained cave divers. Neither father nor son were cave diver certified. On 25 Dec 2013, around 2030hrs, the son was recovered at 67 feet, the father at 127 feet. Near the dive site there is a prominent sign that reads ”Cave diving in this area is extremely dangerous — even life threatening!! Do not dive unless you are a certified cave diver!!”

This was an entirely preventable incident. What can we take from it?

  • Don’t give diving equipment as gifts to non-certified divers, if they’re going to get certified, and you want to gift them gear, get them a gift certificate or gift card to the local dive shop.
  • Dive within your limits, don’t conduct dives that you’re not trained for or lack the proper experience and preparation for.
  • Choose easy dive sites for equipment testing, so if something goes wrong, you’ll have a much higher chance of survival.
  • NEVER take unqualified, uncertified “divers” on dangerous, complex dives like those found in a cave system. Unless you’re a DM, AI, or OWSI,
  • Have an emergency plan; and a surface buddy who can alert the authorities if you’re not back on the surface in time. This is especially important in isolated diving locations.
  • If a diver is known to be taking non-divers diving, is a known poacher, or is “teaching” diving without certification to do so, it’s imperative on local dive shops to not support that individual. Don’t fill tanks, don’t do anything to support their activities.

Diving is, despite its mainstream acceptance and growing prevalence, an extreme sport. You are entering an alien environment where only technology, training, and experience can keep you alive. This past Christmas, what should have been a great bonding moment between father and son turned tragic for no acceptable reason. I would love it if this were the last fatality related post I put up anywhere on Cold Water Diver this year.

About the author

Graeme Barber is a professional diver, qualified as a PADI and SDI Divemaster, DCBC 40m Unrestricted Commercial Scuba Diver, 30m Restricted Surface Supply diver, and CAUS Scientific Diver Lv.2. In addition to being the head of Cold Water Diver, he's a full time student working on a degree in Archaeology.