October 12, 1992
For the last month I have been in Shreveport Louisiana working on a new film "Shark Night 3D" running dive operations for the special effects department. Living out of a residence hotel and pulling 14-hour days in a swamp has been fun for me while Scott runs the day-to-day of TDL. This past weekend I jumped off production to head to Pensacola aboard the SPREE for the TDL Oriskany Expedition. We had a great time - 100 trimix and technical dives done over three days! Over conversation the other afternoon we were all talking about tech diving's evolution and how it's changed dramatically over the years and how helium has become the norm whereas 15 years ago it was not. Capt. Frank was talking about safety and how he likes the trips I run because safety is the #1 thing I stress. He added in ..... ďand every year Joel writes this memorial that you should see to reinforce the need for safety.Ē
I looked up and asked: "Is this weekend Columbus Day Weekend?" (i've been in movie land the last 4 weeks so i have no concept of dates and time) And so it is. Which brings me back to the annual memorial post I make.
My father will turn 90 this month. We had a good scare with him with a stroke in July as I came off the Doria which put him into rehab for over 3 months and hes home now doing well. Kathy's father passed last October. An emotionally hard year all around between family, friends, and hard memories. But we persevere.
On the upside our son Jona just turned 9 and earned his Open Water Certification. His sister Jane now 12 presented at BTS this year. My oldest son Charles is finishing up paramedic school in NYC for FDNY. We ran some very cool trips this year and everyone came back safely.
But as I sit here in Shreveport Louisiana this afternoon I'm filled with both joy and sadness. I miss my family as I have been away for a month, yet I rejoice in their ability to continue have accomplishments even when I am not around. I'm happy my father is doing better though his window is closing. And as I wrapped out the Spree trip yesterday I had that sigh of relief I get when all my people come off a dive trip safely. And yet as I get on-line today I see there are new posts of people dying. Cavers in France, 87 meters down (active event), a diver in Michigan.
For the past 17 years or so I have written this memorial for two young men who died a horrific death while doing what they loved-diving. Iíve posted it on web boards and on blogs as a milestone reminder of where we have been, how far I have come and how much more I still have to do. Some have grown tired of seeing the XXX Years Today post and have expressed it loudly. Yet others appreciate the reminder.
Earlier this year I had a chance to hang out with my old friend Billy Deans. We talked about the changes technical diving has taken over the last 20 odd years and how today it's a packaged sport. We have all the tools and techniques pretty well sorted out. What new students do with the training after they do it is entirely up to them. The trimix students I trained last October had a goal of visiting the Andrea Doria this year, and they did it successfully. Students we trained in April in Key West were just using the skills and techniques on the Oriskany. But as we step forward creating new "technical divers" itís always good to go back and look at some of the events of the technical divers no longer with us. The memorial post about the Rouseís does that.
I step back in time to a fateful Columbus day weekend in 1992 when we had gathered in Philadelphia for the NAUI International Conference on Underwater Education (ICUE) at a special session we had organized to discuss the concerns and problems of this new thing emerging-Technical Diving.
1992 was not a good year. We had experienced more than 10 fatalities Ė Alachua Sink, FL, Andrea Doria, Nantucket, Arundo, NJ, Chester Polling, MA, Devil's Ear, FL, La Jolla Canyon, CA., In addition to the US fatalities there were fatalities as well in Europe. There were also some injuries, June 92, the U_Who _ DCI blowup, Aug 92, Andrea Doria, DCI blowup, Lake Jocasse, NC o2 tox, but survived. And there were about to be two more fatalities within hours of our gathering.
I assembled a panel sponsored by my (then) magazine Sub Aqua and my colleague Michael Mendunoís magazine (then) AquaCorps. The panel included many of the divers and trainers who were at the forefront of this new technical diving movement. Menduno, Chowdhury, Garvin, Hendrick, Bielenda, Deans, Betts, Bohrer, Butler, Hamilton, Mount, Emmerman, Gilliam, Lander, Cush, and myself as organizer. The audience (over 250 and standing room only) were the seasoned and the novice diver. Some with decades of diving experience, others with just months. We discussed issues that were important to life and the survival underwater. This was Saturday. October 10, 1992. (I also met the woman who would become my wife that day.)
During the next day small groups got together to discuss issues and explore more of what we talked about. We were happy with the work we had done and planned to continue to work with each other in the future as this was just the beginning of our work. We went home in the hopes that we may have learned just one thing that will save us or will save just one other.
It was a rainy weekend in Philadelphia. But we were warm and comfortable embraced by the city of freedom, independence, and hope. But it was a Sunday and while we were finishing our meetings others were out diving. The dive season on the East Coast was still active, especially for the hard core wreck divers.
As we sipped our coffee during brunch in the hotel there were screams of fear and terror. Two young men, a father and son team 235 feet below the surface of the New Jersey Atlantic ocean struggled to live. While they gasped for breath, we were living life. While a father tried to save his son, we were planning our next adventure. And while the valiant crew and the people onboard the Seeker tried to breathe life back into them we were probably thinking that the work we had done this weekend was good.
Barb Lander, (one of our panelists) left the conference Saturday night to be on that trip. A registered nurse, she saw the death of one and the soon death of the other first hand. Another panelist, Cathie Cush, who had lost her long time lover that summer was best friends with the woman who has just lost her husband and son. Except we didn't know this happened until we got home that evening and the phones were ringing. The news hit home.
I did not know the two men who died. I had heard their names and may have met them once but that need not matter. By default they were friends. I did not have to know them to know some of how they felt about life. Since that weekend in 1992 I have lost way too many friends to diving. Some acquaintances, some very dear friends. Some that make me wonder why we continue to do these dives and others that just make me wonder. The big ones to me, Steve Berman, Tony Maffatone, Rod Farb and Steve Donothan. Last year (2009) I lost my friends Capt. Zero and Paul Blanchette and my friend Joyce Haywood (medical reasons) Iíve also seen many divers get hurt, decompression sickness, oxygen toxicity, gas embolism. Most survive with little to no permanent damage, some still struggle with each days basic needs. Each one cuts a part out of my heart and each one leaves an indelible mark etched in my soul that requires, that mandates, that I continue to survive and succeed at my pathway of being the best I can be at this craft.
As I go on dive boats now and watch new tech divers who donít really know who I am or where I have been I interact less and less with them. I watch and listen to them as they discuss dive plans and profiles with a cavalier attitude and for some with an intensity that has blinders on. I listen to some of the wildest statements of fact and shake my head in wonder. I might ask how long they have been diving only to find they have only accumulated a pile of equipment and a lot of certification cards, but never really have "dived." It gives me a moment of pause.
The view from my seat has changed over the years. Iíve become an old-timer, some of the new kids are on their own path, some however seek me out for advice and tutelage. (I just finished teaching an Advanced Trimix Instructor Course with an outstanding instructor.) Todayís diver scares me. Just like early tech divers like myself scared those who came before us. Note that of the panelists I listed above, all are still alive. Some of us are still very active in technical diving, some have retired from diving altogether. Iíve been at the tech game since 1990.
18 years later, analysis, two books written, a documentary filmed, and a feature film still stuck in development, and more friends and acquaintances have passed away. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this stuff is dangerous -- that the ocean and caves are alien environments and we are just guests, and while equipment rarely fails, we know that men and women fail at the point when they can no longer perform. Many of you who are reading this know that some will be left behind. Not because we want them to but because the sea will take them. If you donít, then, this is the time for the wake up call.
This past year there have been accidents and fatalities some as recently as a few days ago. Two that stand out for me are Wes Skiles and Yasuko Okada. Two divers at different ends of the spectrum, yet passed within two weeks of each other. The fatalities in both open and closed circuit diving has continued to be out of hand. There will be more- but there should be NONE. There is no reason whatsoever for divers to die anymore. We have the tools, techniques, and know-how to prevent most if not all fatalities. But as we throw out the names of people who have died while diving and as we try to pick apart accidents in the search for more information. As some "demand" information in the un-earned right to have it when an incident occurs, take a moment and realize that the last time you came back from a dive you were lucky.
At 51 now I take a different approach to diving. While more than capable of still doing the bad-ass hard core work I take great pleasure in introducing people to the big wrecks in a healthy environment. This years diving for me has run the gamut of deep water CCR diving to 10-hour a day shallow water movie-making diving, to Jona earning his certification at age 9 in the lake. (In a few weeks he does his 3rd u/w pumpkin carving) to putting five-new divers on the Doria and getting folks on some of the big wrecks we have. On that weekend in 1992 I met my wife Kathy and our lives have taken us to many fabulous places since then. And, we have survived the loses of many of our friends too. Itís not easy as some of you know but life goes on. Unfortunately we will have to survive more.
I believe that luck begins with preparedness, others may say it's skill, but at the end of that day your name was not on that list. And, while you may continue to argue about which way is better and which way is right use some common sense and help yourself and the people who love you. If you know it's stupid just don't do it. If you know your prep just was not what it should be scrub the dive. If you do jump in and become one more name to add to the list, someday after the pain has subsided among those that knew you, someone may remember that fateful day.
In Memoriam for Chris Rouse Sr. and Chris Rouse Jr. October 12 1992