September 23, 1999

Hi Mom,

     Nice to hear from you. I had a, let’s call it “interesting”, dive a little over a week ago with my buddy Chip. I wanted you to hear about it from me before you got a mixed story from anyone else. We got a chance to dive the Milwaukee Carferry again. The ship went down in 1929 while fighting its way across the lake in a terrible Milwaukee War Zonestorm. The first time I dove it, the visibility was the usual Lake Michigan murk and I didn’t see much. It’s huge and looks like a war zone. A lot of twisted metal everywhere made it difficult to identify anything. I was hopeful the vis would be better, but didn’t count on it. Chip and I hooked up with a Wednesday evening charter and met at the dock. I was using an aluminum 80cf tank with a 30cf pony bottle as back up. Chip being a bit of an “air pig” had an aluminum 94cf tank and some fairly new fancy regulators. Either way the dive would be short as we would be under 120 feet of water and weren’t planning to go into decompression. On the trip out to the dive site we struck up a conversation with a girl named Jade. She was also a recreational diver, but that evening was her second dive in her brand new drysuit. Chip and I had been interested in shooting video of the massive twin screws (props) that were located about 20 feet under the rear deck. With the usual poor visibility, we weren’t sure if we could find them and Jade happily volunteered to take us there.

     We soon were suited up and ready to jump into the water. There were several dive teams on this charter and we politely waited until most everyone had dropped under the surface, before donning our gear and following them down. The visibility was a still only about five feet as expected. The temperature was about 40 degrees. Jade was having difficulty with her buoyancy in the new suit and was swimming down the main rail using it now and again to hold on to. At this point we realized we weren’t going to make it down to the screws. We passed a diver with a camera setting up to take a picture of an intact porthole with rusticles hanging around it. On our way by, Jade bounced off of the ships hull and silted up the area. I smiled knowingly as this has been done to me many times by other divers while trying to get a good video shot.

     We had hardly passed the silt cloud when suddenly Chip’s regulator went into a full blown freeflow! He immediately switched to his octopus (or back up regulator) and tried to slow the stream. Seeing the escaping air bubbles all around him, and knowing we hadn’t been down long, my first thought was to escort Chip Chip with Freeflowto the surface. With his large tank I figured the gas would hold long enough to slowly make our way topside. If he ran out of air on the way I could give him my pony bottle regulator.  I took his elbow and started to make a slow free accent. After only a couple of feet, Chip pulled his elbow free, dumped some air from his BCD (Buoyancy Compensation Device) and settled down onto the deck to try to fix the problem. “Maybe he knows someway to stop it that I don’t.” I thought. Chip worked on it for a short time and then handed it to me. I tried a couple of things to slow the flow but nothing worked. At this point I realized that Chip had to be almost out of air. I reached down to free up my pony bottle regulator, which was attached to my BCD with a little piece of Velcro, but it wouldn’t come loose. No time to goof around, I gave it one good hard pull and broke the plastic clip holding the Velcro to my BCD. I looked up to hand the working regulator to Chip and he was gone! When I had looked down to free up the regulator, Chip took that moment to check his air. The gauge showed he only had 270psi left in his emptying tank. At this point, bolting to the surface was his only thought and he shot up like a rocket.

     I quickly signaled for Jade to buddy up with the port-hole photographer and started to follow Chip’s lead to the surface. Almost immediately my computer signaled to slow my accent. I complied. It is very hard to keep your self safe when a friend is in trouble. At what seemed like a snails pace I continued the free accent, periodically slowing as my computer continued to nag about my speed. On the way up, I went over the things I would need to do once I reached the surface. First, look for the boat and signal that we needed help. Then presuming Chip wasn’t dead, he’d most likely be unconscious and at least floating as the air in his BC would have expanded it to its full size. I’d have to find him, swim over, and start rescue breathing, while swimming him against the current back to the boat, ditching gear as we went. I resigned myself to the fact that after all this, it wasn’t going to end well and I’d be making some tough phone calls. When I finally broke the surface I looked Looking for Chiparound and saw the boat, but didn’t see Chip. I waved both arms in the direction of the boat and yelled as loud as I could, “Where’s Chip!”     I could see some movement in the Len-der’s pilot house and then someone leaning out the door. “I’m right here.” It was Chip. In the amount of time it took me to safely follow my assent procedures, Chip had already swam to the boat and removed all of his gear. The relief was overwhelming. I swam to the boat and climbed in. Shortly Jade and the other diver boarded and after changing into street clothes we met up on the rear deck to compare notes.

     Chip admitted that when he saw his pressure gauge so low, he panicked. He thought of nothing but getting air at the surface and totally ran out at roughly 40 feet. I related what I’ve already told you, and a non-diving passenger mentioned that when Chip hit the surface they could almost see his knees. Jade followed these observations with her own. When Chip started having the trouble, her first thought was to offer him her spare regulator. When she headed over to do that, she saw that I was dealing the situation and thought “Rick’s a Divemaster, he knows what he’s doing and will handle it.” After Chip took off and I signaled her to get together with the other diver she said she swam directly to him and signaled franticly that she wanted to go up now. When the other diver hesitated she relayed the message. “NOW!” They then swam to the line and came up.Discussing Dive

     After the other divers were on board and the boat was free of the mooring line, we continued our conversation on the way back to shore. We debated the odds of surviving a full blown free assent from over 100 feet and agreed that Chip was very very lucky. After the initial comments, Chip stayed pretty quiet and mostly listened. Once at the dock, making him even more uncomfortable, we all had to more or less baby him. After most any kind of diving accident it is procedure to keep the person from exerting himself and thus preventing any kind of CO2 build up in his system. We all assisted each other loading his gear into his truck and soon everyone had gone except Chip and I. It was suddenly very quiet. “Want a ride home?” I offered. He shook his head. “Hey, you OK?” I said as one last check. “I feel pretty stupid.” He responded. “Sometimes this stuff happens”. I replied as we shook hands. “You may want to stop at the church and throw some money in the poor box on the way home; I think you used a favor. Have your wife keep an eye on you and I’ll see you next week.” 

    Did we learn anything? Yes; Chip learned the consequences of panic. Jade learned to go with your first thought and don’t wait for someone else to handle a situation and I learned the first thing you do is give air, then deal with the other problems. Chip is fine and after having his regulator overhauled has made a couple of deep dives since. No after effects neither physical nor mental. I’ll answer your other questions when I see you.

Love you lots, see you soon,

Your Eldest Son~~~