The Tragedy of Dave Shaw

The other day I learned about Dave Shaw. I won’t go into all the details here, but the short story is that he discovered a body in a cave while deep diving at 270 meters. He was not able to recover the body on his first dive, so for the next few months, he proceeded to organize a recovery mission.

This video is one of several that tell the story:

I think it is important to study tragedies like this, so we can learn what went wrong. There is value in trusting your knowledge and experience, yes. But, what happens when you CAN’T trust your knowledge and experience?

At least three things went wrong: the body was out of position according to the plan, Mr. Shaw was startled by something unexpected, and his flashlight caused an entanglement problem.

As a novice, it seems to me that the real problem was Mr. Shaw’s impairment. At that depth, his judgment and movement were impaired from the very start of his bottom time. Everyone knew that.

So, first he tried to improvise, while impaired, with the body. This unplanned labor hastened his breathing. Then he got startled, causing his breathing to accelerate further and become more shallow. And, finally, he got entangled and could not extricate himself.

The carbon dioxide in his closed-circuit rebreather (CCR) put him to sleep in a cave 270 meters below the water’s surface. His only hope for rescue had an equipment problem between 240-250 meters and could not descend to him. His only hope for rescue began a fight for his own life, which had lasting health repurcussions.

One of the documentaries pointed out that more humans have walked on the moon than have dived to 250 meters. That depth is serious.

So, again, it seems to me that the word “improvise” becomes very dangerous when used with the word “impaired.” Even though the commentary said that Mr. Shaw continued to try to take appropriate actions, he kept failing. He could not secure the body. He could not extricate himself. He exhausted himself using scuba gear that trapped his CO2, but could not recycle it quickly enough.

The one thing missing, it seems, is that Mr. Shaw should have planned and practiced to abort the mission. He planned his dive, but he could neither dive his plan nor improvise a new one.

And, one more HUGE thing missing: he had no dive buddy at depth! His nearest buddy was too far away, and had a near-catastrophic equipment failure. It seems to me that it would have been safer having a buddy team at depth, one focused on the mission and one focused on safety. That way, even impaired, one of them is focused on safety above all else.

For the record, I have only 3 logged dives and am not trying to second-guess experts. As a student, I am merely trying to analyze what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what actions I can personally take as I take more courses and log more dives.

I look forward to discussing this specific story, however, with the experts at my dive center. Some of them use CCRs and do deep diving, although I am not sure if they combine the two.

In the meantime, my dive motto will be: “Live. Learn. Dive another day.”

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