Accomplished Bad Divers


The Seeker

Years ago, when I was crewing on the Seeker, I had the opportunity to dive with some really skilled and talented wreck divers. Much of what I now know, I learned from them. On the other hand, I would occasionally come across divers like Ed, who was an extremely Accomplished Bad Diver. For the entire time I knew Ed, he appeared to be an excellent emergency manager who in no way understood the concept of prevention?

Ed was a deep air diver, and later a technical diver, who for several years was diving from the Seeker on impressive wrecks like the Andrea Doria. I would estimate that over that time, I watched Ed make something like 40 serious deep decompression dives. Surprising, over that time I do not believe that he ever surfaced having breathed exclusively the gas he brought with him for the dive. He ran out of gas, on virtually every dive I saw him make.

One of Ed's many problems was that he described himself as an "air hog". He regularly used more gas than the average diver. Now, Ed could have modified his dive plans to better fit his gas consumption rate as it was, or he could have figured out a way to carry more gas with him? He also could have consciously decreased his level of physical exertion which would have lowered the volume of his gas needs, or he could have worked to improve his level of physical fitness and cardio pulmonary efficiency? Unfortunately, Ed did not do any of these things.


cartoon from NASE

What Ed did was to become extremely skilled at obtaining gas from other sources while in the water. If his problem was running out of gas, his solution was getting gas from other divers, or from the boat, and he became very good at it. Apparently, an important factor for the selection of his buddy was their ability to supply him with gas. He would also utilize dive boats that had an in water emergency gas supply. If all else failed, he would cruise the anchor line looking for gas from other divers.

You can only imagine the myriad of problems this caused. Buddies did not like carrying Ed's breathing gas, and dive boat operators did not like putting emergency oxygen in the water for the exclusive use of one particular diver. More than once, Ed was out of gas on the wreck before even beginning his ascent. More than once, Ed and his buddy both ended up out of gas, both with a pending decompression obligation. More than once, Ed was blacklisted from a dive boat, and eventually that is what happened with Ed and the Seeker.

On one occasion, not on the Seeker, Ed returned to the surface, however his buddy did not. The buddy's body was never found, and Ed was not able to say what had actually happened to the missing diver? On another dive, and another dive boat, Ed botched setting the hook on the Andrea Doria, and ended up separated from both his buddy and the anchor line, which was not connected to the wreck. Ed did a free ascent, and surfaced owing 99 minutes of decompression, according to his computer. The buddy ran out of gas on the wreck, but surfaced on the anchor line, and ultimately did his omitted decompression hanging from their dive boat, adrift. The vessel they were diving from was now committed to saving the dive buddy, and unable to search for the now lost Ed. It was sheer luck that the Seeker was approaching the site and able to search for Ed. It was even more good luck that we found him. Amazingly, both divers survived, and Ed was diving the Andrea Doria, badly, the very next day. I refer to divers like Ed as, Accomplished Bad Divers, because that is what they are.

Cave Diving in Mexico

Akumal Cenote in Mexico

Now, Ed is not going to come on my website and dispute anything I am saying here about him. This is because he lost his life, not surprisingly, in a diving accident. At some point, he decided to undertake cave training, and became certified as a cave diver. For a guy who has trouble managing his breathing gas, cave diving is either a really, really good idea......or really, really, really bad idea. Unfortunately, in Ed's case, it was the latter. He ran out of gas, alone, after leaving his buddies, 1,200 feet from the entrance of the cave. Basically, after all that cave training, and after all his deep diving experience, he was not even close to managing the gas he needed for the dive he was making.

He had absolutely no idea of how capable a diver he was, or was not? He did not realize how dangerous he was. His focus was completely, and totally, misdirected. Ed was really capable, and knowledgeable, and experienced at only one thing, diving badly. Yes, Ed is certainly an extreme example of an Accomplished Bad Diver, but many of us may know divers who are developing their skills in similar ways, working on remedies, but not prevention.

Any out of gas situation, any emergency, any unplanned event, is cause for one to reflect. As divers, we need to honestly analyze what actually happened, and figure out why? In Ed's case he should have taken his first out of air experience, and had a serious talk with himself. He should have figured out why it happened, and figured out what he had to do to make sure it never, ever happened again.

hubrisEd wrongly concluded that he was an absolutely amazing and talented diver, just for his surviving!!! Ed's survival was a monument to his extraordinary diving abilities, and no one could tell him differently? He was able to prove this to himself over, and over, and over. Unfortunately, I think he believed this the first time he ran out of gas, and probably did not think otherwise until the it was last time he ran out of gas.

This blog is not really about running out of gas, or even about poor dead Ed. I want this blog to be about honesty, humility, and perspective. Everyone makes mistakes, and most mistakes can be valuable opportunities for learning, but not when we learn the wrong lesson. If you or I survive any kind of diving emergency, did we do something right, or something wrong?


40 Responses

  1. Chip Newman
    Amazing. This should be required reading for anyone undertaking any endeavor that involve risk. Particularly if that endeavor also involves other people. Thanks for sharing.
  2. Robert Bickel
    Thank you for the entry John. I always enjoy reading the perspective you offer. Very easy to see why someone would become frustrated with an accomplished bad diver. Carelessness and selfishness, especially the preventable type, are utterly inexcusable when so much rides on detail.
  3. Karle Smith
    John, another very good and interesting read. Good meeting you while in Pompano with Dan and Carl. Hope to get a dive with you in the future. Regard. Karle
  4. Planning is such an important part of deep/technical diving. So many underwater issues come down to a lack of competent planning. I wonder how many 'accomplished bad divers' are also poor planners. To be a good planner one must acknowledge personal abilities, truthfully and realistically - which reinforces your last paragraph. Nice work, as always, John. I do enjoy your no-BS writing style. Cheers John.
  5. Harley
    A very fascinating (and humbling!) read, Mr. Chatterton. But upon reflection I do have one question (and I realize that as divers we are each responsible for our own safety and well-being): Did any of Ed's "buddies" ever approach him directly (and honestly) after any one of the above-documented OOA / "near death experiences", and TELL him, "Ed, you are fooling yourself here", or "you're playing with fire", or some such conversation? Clearly, this man was engaged in a great deal of "self-delusion" and hubris (to use your terminology), but was there not even ONE friend that could have sat him down and looked him in the eye, thereby (possibly) avoiding his tragic death? Forgive me for my ignorance in that I am not an accomplished technical diver (just a lowly PADI MSDT), but certainly if I had observed this type of behavior (or been unfortunate enough have been his buddy or air "gas source"!) I would have taken it upon myself to have a serious "man to man" conversation with him! (Obviously, I never met Ed, nor did I know what his personality was like. Please understand that I do not wish to show any disrespect for the deceased.)
  6. Michael Apke
    Great story. If Ed did not end up Dead this story would probably breed more like Ed.Who was Ed's support system? Didn't anyone tell him he sucked?
  7. i have seen divers like this that hang below the boat at 20Ft and pilfer your deco gas....maybe it was Ed i dove with a few years ago in North Carolina diving the U-352 or one of the wrecks nearby around Cape Hatteras, that guy was known to do this and I just could not imagine living like this! its like a circus act except these clowns really know what they are doing! having more than 20 minutes of deco and have absolutely no back gas and no deco gas! i am glad to say my trainers have made a strong impression on me and I have never and hope to never think of doing anything similar!
  8. Dan
    Sounds like Ed needed a rebreather :)
    • Diver Deb
      I disagree that he needed a rebreather. He needed to become a better diver, and using a rebreather would just give him a false sense of security and probably an even worse buddy.
      • John Chatterton
        If Ed were alive, he would probably love the idea of using a rebreather as yet another easy way for him to not deal with the real problem, which was Ed. Of course, this would have most likely not changed the eventual outcome either?? The thing I was trying to somehow illustrate is that the solution to most of the problems we face as divers, is found by looking inward, not by borrowing gas, making excuses, or using the latest computerized CCR with Kung Fu grip. However, this is probably true of life, as well as diving, isn't it?? Cheers
  9. Cold Water Diver
    Commenter Chip was much nicer about it but I wonder why a diver like this wasn't punched in the face. Divers like this are to be avoided at all costs. They create chaos without a conscience or any regard for others. They are the sociopaths of the sport. Do not dive with them, do not go out on boats with them, do not let them in your club. No amount of training seems to have an effect on them and if they are shunned, maybe they will at least be off solo shore diving when they croak and hopefully traumatize fewer people. I know one of these, he's crippled now from solo tech diving on a stupid mix, getting too narced to manage his gas and ending up on a free ascent without doing any deco. Stupid. Unfortunately I think that most dive training does not address the issue of how your own lack of care and irresponsibility can ruin the dive, dive trip, experience, or even the lives of other divers, instructors, DMs and boat operators. Dive training should make you accountable, first and foremost, to your buddies, and them to you. Nothing is more compelling than a teammate staring you in the face and telling you to get your act together or they won't dive with you anymore. People can act cavalier with themselves and announce their right to mess up their own lives but they rarely address the trauma they cause to others when they do so. I think the sentence "At least he died doing what he loved" is crap 99% of the time. "He died because of his own bad judgment and caused a lot of pain in a lot of people's lives, what an asshat" is usually far more accurate but no one wants to say that. If we did say that though, maybe fewer people would act like asshats and get themselves killed.
  10. Excellent post. Unfotunately some people are so closed minded that the only way they get to realise how bad they are/or what they are consistently missing is when they lose their life, forgetting the trauma and distress that this causes for all involved (rescuers, family & friends). Regards
  11. Bali Tec Divers
    I think we are all an accomplished bad diver at one point or another. Consider oc divers starting ccr, backmount starting sidemount, recreational instructors starting more technical stuff... Many of those will fall victim to this type of hubris described here. Even in established grounds it is very easy to become over-confident. Thanks again John for getting useful thought processes started John.
  12. Excellent post John and right on target. Many of us know divers like this and find it especially frustrating that they don't seem to have insight into their diving skill level. While we all make mistakes it is up to each of us to carefully evaluate those mistakes to effectively learn from them. Ed
  13. Reading about Ed sure made me feel that I made the right decisions about picking where and when I should dive. Don't know how many dives I have made, but guess somewhere around 4000. The wrecks I dive are mostly shallow. The deepest I have worked is 140 ft. taking care to follow the decompression rules. My intention is to keep diving until I can't do it anymore. The story about Ed should, I hope, makes all of us think about the type of diving we do, and how to make it better.
  14. Fred M. Bates
    Wonderful blog post. Why would people continue to dive with someone so oblivious and so very selfish? I am not the most accomplished diver and still have a lot of areas to improve in. However, even though I always carry a redundant air source, I have never run out of primary air. All one has to do is look at a gauge once in a while. I wonder, did Ed drive without ever looking at the speedometer?
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  16. Amy Broughman
    So very well said, sir.
  17. Rick
    I have heard about the "Ed" types. There is a story told by one of the instructors at the shop I go to about an Ed that pulled these types of stunts on a dive boat in Belize. After the third OOA situation the instructor witnessed this bozo make a bounce to 80 feet or so at the END of a dive to look at something and start signaling OOA to the instructors wife on the ascent. Back on the boat he took him aside and explained that he was putting everyone in danger and it was no longer acceptable to beg air from his group of divers. The guy didn't run out of air again on that trip, with those people... Lets hope he learned. Thanks for the post John.
  18. Mike Walsh
    My dive buddy" NEVER " ran out of gas no mater how good the dive was !!! It's better to be a safe diver than a dead diver !!
  19. Denis Finnegan
    Sad case. I see a group of folks that enabled this guy to his death. We all need frank feedback and I know that I must demonstrate my skills to my buddies before we take on new challenges. Denis
  20. Ian Huggins
    That is a shame about Ed, but personally if I had witnessed his type of dive management, there would have been a frank and robust discussion and at the very least I would not have dived with him or on his party again, I have no wish to be recovering bodies when on a dive trip
  21. Mycroft
    Never have run into this type before, and hope I never do. Had a dive where a buddy got cut off from his regulator. After getting him up, we reviewed gear placement so that it would never happen that way again. He had knocked the reg out of his mouth and his arm got tangled up so he couldn't reach either one of his regs. Any time I've seen an incident OOA or anything similar, we do a post mortem on the problem, find out why, then take preventive measures to stop it from happening again - isn't that what you are supposed to do? And as the buddy of the guy who ran in OOA, it is just as much your responsiblity as his to review after the fact.
  22. scott acton
    I tell all my students, that running out of gas, is not acceptable. Monitor your gauges, dive within your limits! You taught me JC that The Ocean would be the one to Kick my ass! When I do my deep diving, I rather have to have a short dive, than put others at rick. I really like your blog.
  23. Sealife
    All consistant with Narcissistic Personality Disorder...initially comes across as charming, intelligent, friendly etc., but traits such as lack of empathy, exploitative of others, entitlement, little conscience, extremely defensive when challenged, accepts little responsibility for his/her behavior, over inflated image of self and skills, and just "full of themselves" comes through as you hang around them...just to name a few traits. And they lie, lie, and lie. We have all met some and they are all over the planet. No cure for this and they tend to get worse as they get older...they don't handle aging very well. Only one way to handle them once your recognize them...get away and stay away!
  24. Skip
    Thanks John, apparantly there was a mindset pattern with Ed.  I notice that planning dives for recreational divers is often just not done.  In my deep specialty class (PADI) I spend time talking about planning and air consumption.  We all calculate sac rates and then relate it to the dive we want to do, allow some contingency and in the end, see where our plan was effective and where it was not.  I try to build this planning into every dive and push that mindset onto the divers I train.  I hate to see anyone lose their life diving - but in this case I believe Ed was bound and determined to do so despite the many buddies that were there for his accomplished bad diving habits. Regards, Skip Schultz PADI 236184
    • Nathan Dent
      I've run across several "Eds" in my time. All but one that I can think of did eventually make one error too many and die in the water. I've spoken to many of these people. I gave one of them a direct order (we were both active duty military at the time) to avoid diving deep with other careless divers. My experience is true to John's post, Eds don't respond to the inputs that most of us do. Incidentally, rebreathers don't help, they just introduce a more exotic way for Eds to eventually kill themselves.
  25. Brilliant post. Great lessons here for divers of all experience levels.
  26. Edward J. Palumbo
    Most of us learn from our mistakes and those made by others but, for those who adamantly refuse to do so, they pose a hazard to themselves and to other divers with whom they're teamed. I think you've done well to share this information, and it should be part of diver training. Dive safely and frequently, (a different) Ed
  27. Darrell Staight
    Very well written. This should be the introduction on any technical diving course. A moment for reflection. Thanks John.
  28. John, Great stuff. Sadly all too true. I find that often many want a technological fix or some magic bullet to solve some issue they have. My usual comment is, fix the diver. We cannot engineer the diver out of the equation as much as many would wish or like to be able to. The quickest and most direct route to the issue is often the diver. Technical diving is diver dependent. No system or technology is going to make this diver proof. As you say it begins with the diver. Looking inward and believing the first rule is you are not as good as you think you are and neither is anyone else is foundational in the mindset of any good diver. Thirty years of doing it badly does not make you good. Just dumb lucky. May I share this post on my blog? I think it is a great addition to the conversation.
    • John Chatterton
      Sure, share as you see fit. JC
      • Hello I am a ow diver in training with SSI now I originally did PADI ,in both I have been trained to keep 50bar as a reserve and recommended to take a 5 Minute safety stop, regardless, if I am doing a no-decompression dive, and drummed into me,if my buddy is low on gas or cold, prepare to end your dive, even if I am snug in my suit and have loads of gas. It's the buddy code of ethics/conduct. I imagine, if ed had a twin-set ,he would not of planned his dive, and dived his plan. He is a lesson to be learnt and to be avoided. Although I imagine he would of been at home saturation diving as he would be tethered to the bell and ship,then again those guys are the heavyweights of dive planning... so then again maybe not. I hope to one day dive on the Lusitania,it's really only down the road from me,I will have to be well dived by then of course,if there is anything left of it by then.
        • John Chatterton
          As you progress, your dive planning will become more detailed and complex. That is part of the fun of diving. It is also good to have goals. If you want to dive the Lucy, I suspect you will still find it interesting even years from now. However, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Give my best wishes to Kinsale. JC
          • Every new diver should read this… One of the reasons I walked away from diving was because of a diving accident that ended in death. He wasn’t my dive buddy but I new him well. We were diving the same wreck but for different companies. It was caused by catastrophic equipment failure and panic. I did everything I could to get to him to save him but was too late. Though it wasn’t my fault I still blamed myself. It was that and the level of poorly trained divers I was encountering when sport diving caused me to hang up my tanks. I was fortunate I learned to sport dive from a amazing instructor that was also Commercial driver instructor. His name was Robert Brown. He was really tough on me and made sure I new every safety procedure by hart and I was a better diver because of him!
  29. Nisbet Patfield
    Thanks for the blog. It made me realize that there are many skilled bad divers out there. I am new to tec diving and take things like gas consumption seriously. I have been trained to record sac rates and check consumption after the dive and compare it to the dive plan. I take all of this very seriously. If myself or one of our group had an out of air situation or even was using our reserve air we as a group would have a discussion about it after the dive and make sure the person understood what could be done to avoid this in the future. Training by the proper people seems to be important. Plan the dive and dive the plan seems to be important. But most of all understanding your own capabilities and limits seems to be the most important. Also on a different note I have just finished reading Shadow Divers. It should be mandatory reading for new tec divers. Shows a lot of mind set issues even your own John when you ran out of gas inside the wreck. Glad you made it out alive to tell the story. Sorry for Ed glad he didn't take any one with him. Heading for Truk this week to dive the wrecks. Hope there are no accomplished bad divers on board. Thanks for making me think. Nisbet Patfield PADI 299482
  30. Mark Unsworth
    Well now ,that really makes you stop and think . It's amazing that even after Ed's buddy never returned from the dive ,Ed never stopped to evaluate his diving skills or lack there of ..... Wow! John this makes me think back through the several close calls I've personally had not from being a bad diver , sometimes it was lack of knowledge or being in a situation out of control , from assuming the dive support on board the vessel was competent to handle a situation or just plain getting in over my head( pardon the pun) . Each time during and after I was able to keep calm sort it out get back to the boat or beach all the while figuring out how it would never happen again . Having a few experiences has definately made me a better diver, it's the ability to learn from my and other peoples experiences that make us better divers and better people!! Thanks for sharing John , come back to Newfoundland for a dive again some time , it was great meeting you! Keep diving safe! Mark unsworth
  31. [...] doing is wrong and will likely kill them. John Chatterton wrote a very good blog article about this here in which he describes a diver who always ran out of gas and used others’ gas supplies until [...]
  32. eva kristine rasmussen
    I could see why you would need to write this. It needed to be said and I thank you for this. But I can also see that having known him, this must have been difficult for you to write, and very difficult for his friends to read. I thank you for writing anyway. Eva Kristine Blue Angel Resort Cozumel, Mexico
  33. […] Originally Posted by NWGratefulDiver Unfortunately, Lynne, I'm not having trouble processing that at all. Remember the time we stopped in Nanaimo on our way to Port Hardy (the Curt Bowen trip) and I ran into someone I know? He and his friends were diving that wall to depths below 250 fsw ... on air ... using double 100's ... and without any plans for gas contingencies. They were basically diving solo. You may recall that my friend a few months later ran OOA in Elliot Bay at 200 fsw, and was seriously injured doing a CESA from that depth. He and his friends just dive that way ... they don't see anything wrong with it. ... Bob (Grateful Diver) Accomplished bad divers..... Accomplished Bad Divers | Shadow Diver | John Chatterton […]
  34. Larry Malato
    As a Seattle based technical diver I would like to know exactly what happended to the two divers at Nanaimo Snake Island Wall last month. Was this a catastrophic equipment failure that they could not handle or what? If it was an equipmnet failure I sure want to learn from this tragedy. There are lots of stories running around here, none of which is flattering to these guys. If these guys were just doing crazy "bad diver" stuff it is somewhat reassuring, but if something broke and killed them I sure want to know what it was. I like to think that redundancy, solid gas planniung and planned contigencies will save my sorry butt even in the event of something catostophic, however there may be something important to learn here. I hate it when people die where I am diving. A quote from the boat operator to local news said that "they were highly experienced divers". ????
  35. Cornelia Begier
    Thank you for this post. I hope i will never meet such a kind of nightmare Buddy. But i think it's sad that you don't answer the question if any buddy talk seriously with Ed that a planed misuse of the budy as spare air are a no-go. I am not a technical diver and i believe i will never dive wrecks like Andrea Doria but i talk with my buddys if something went wrong and i am allways thanksful if buddys speak with me about thinks have been bad. Sorry for my poor english. It's a foreighn language for me... :-(

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