A lost swimmer or diver occurs occasionally at area lakes and beaches, most of the time they are not lost. The diver forgot to log in, or the swimmer saw someone to talk to, and forgot his companions. These almost never reach the point that rescue personal are called for, but to the Divemaster it can add some grey hair during the few minutes it takes to find the missing diver. Missing swimmers offer the greatest problem to rescue teams because they are not watched for as divers are. Many a rescue team has spent hours searching for a lost swimmer only to find him at home.
When called to a missing swimmer first establish that it is a real situation. Many missing swimmer are not "lost" until the people he was with are ready to leave. Try to establish when he was last seen. Determine how the person arrived. If he came alone see if his car is still at the location. Find out: What happened? When? and Where? Get a description. Was he surfing, windsurfing, or jet skiing? These people could be anywhere, try to find their equipment. Make sure the person is not still out in the water, or in a boat. Account for all other members of the party, keep them together and get everyone's story. Get just the facts, there will always be someone saying: "I think he left with someone else." That statement is not a fact. Once it is established a real situation exist, start your search operation.
For a missing diver the situation is a bit more hurried. As stated divers are usually watched closely, and false alarms are not as frequent as with swimmers. At a dive site go to the Divemaster, if one, and ask: "Do you have a missing buddy team or diver?" A good Divemaster will have already started a search operation get his statement and what he has started and take charge of the situation. Find out from the Divemaster if any cave or wreck diving was going on. The good rescue team should have dove the area several times before and knows what is below, trees, wrecks, cars. So even if no organized wreck or cave diving was being done they still may be there.
If a lone diver, find the victim's buddy. Once found get his story of what happened.
As with a missing swimmer get the facts. What happened? When? Where? Make sure the person is not out of the water or in a boat. Make sure the person's gear bag and car is still in the area. Sound a diver recall if it already has not been done. Account for all other members of the party. Find out who he came with. Place a marker where the buddy surfaced.
Talk to people at the site to get a description of the victim's gear, brand, color, type of BC. Find out if the missing diver had an alternate air source (a pony bottle). Find his gear bag, he may have a log book that list his gear, it also should give his experience.
Was he using twin tanks? Sometimes twin tank divers do not know they are missing until they surface. What happens is, they are diving with a single tank diver, and when he runs low on air he surfaces. His buddy with the dual tanks may have over 1500 psi remaining so he stays down using his remaining air. This does not mean do not start a search operation for the missing diver. When someone sounds the alarm you cannot assume it false because the missing diver has twin tanks. If that turns out to be the situation, feel lucky. The team just had a great training operation under actual conditions. Be sure to lecture the missing diver on how his stupidity caused undo concern, and activation of the rescue team.
Establish lookouts on shore, or in boats, they should have binoculars. If all the divers can be gotten out of the water the searchers can look for bubbles breaking on the surface, and if seen rescuers can follow them down to the source. When not seen, lookouts should keep searching for them from the horizon to their position.
Remind underwater search teams not to make contact with the bottom. Lights may be helpful even in murky water and daylight so have searchers take one. Arrange for relief divers. Ensure rescue team members do not become victims, watch for fatigue and check decompression. No search team should have a bottom time greater than 30 minutes. Divers have a chance of recovery for about one hour but could have additional air such as bail out system, pony bottle, or twin tanks. Remember cold water increases chance of resuscitation.
Disadvantages of search are: Time to organize, use the quickest, safest methods of search, use the KISS principle. A fast attack with one search team should start the operation. Keep the bottom patterns simple. Have back up divers and insure they are not fatigued or approaching decompression.
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