Understanding the analysis of cave diving accidents is crucial for divers to prevent their recurrence in the future.
In 1973, a famous cave diver, Sheck Exley, expressed concern about increasing number of divers deaths in caverns.
A high school math teacher, Exley is very fond of it; others have even said he is obsessed with statistics.
He maintained detailed documentation, logs, and attention to minor exploration details during his professional life.
The most important thing that Exley ever did for the scuba diving world was to conduct an in-depth analysis of accidents involving incidents, which he then categorized into a list of causative factors.
5 Main Factors That Cause Cave Divers Accidents
In his initial investigation, Sheck Exley identified the five factors that most frequently contributed to the demise of cave divers with prior expertise in the field of education in the environment.
The following is a summary of what he stated and the explanation:
Divers Who Have Never Followed or Lack Knowledge About Cave Diving
The most significant factor contributing to accidents was inadequate education in procedures appropriate for working in an overhead environment.
Several of those who drowned were skilled open-water divers; some were even trainers but lacked cave-diving knowledge.
It was said that caves were scary locations where sand would surround a diver, trapping them in a cramped horror they could not escape.
Divemasters who traveled to the beautiful and seductive Florida springs didn’t understand that these gorgeous locations were unsafe.
They were captivated by the deceptive sense of security and calmness displayed by the crystal-clear natural springs that surfaced at the cave entrance.
But if one doesn’t have any training, it’s pretty easy to get lost or confused in a complicated array of tunnels, churning out mud or running out of oxygen before finding a way out.
Divers Ignore the Importance of Guidelines
The mistake of maintaining continuous guidelines in the open water has been the following most prevalent reason that led to accidents and the primary consequence of the highest number of deaths.
The cave’s beautiful water temptation led explorers farther than their abilities, allowing them to get back out safely.
The divers could not navigate back to the open water and were confused.
It is possible to ensure that you can escape the water by running a reel from the open water towards the permanent guideline and applying it as a tactile reference.
Sometimes careless divers ignore these rules, and anyone necessary to cross-jump in the cave may get lost. As a result, they become trapped inside the cave and run out of air.
Divers Fail to Reserve Gas to Get Out of The Cave
Failure to store sufficient gas to exit is the next most significant cause of death after lack of oxygen.
Mainly in the early history of cave diving, the gear was less dependable, and there was a higher incidence of equipment malfunction.
Open water divers who habitually turn around with slightly over half their pressure can not keep enough gas to handle an emergency involving their friend. Or divers just accelerated respiration due to anxiety.
The divers rushed to get out, exchanged oxygen, and exceeded their limitations to use their dwindling supplies, resulting in several deaths near the cave entrance.
Depth and Narcosis
Several divers lost their lives at depths over 150 feet or about 45 meters. Standard diving procedures consisted of air dives with air decompression.
Many early deaths were caused by narcosis since deep diving was already dangerous due to the limited time available to address emergencies.
Lack of Cave Diving Lights And Poor Quality
Getting quality cave diving lights was challenging, negatively buoyant, yet costly.
The last problem that Exley pointed out was that they did not have at least three lights.
In addition, most recreational divers probably didn’t have personal lights.
Therefore in many situations, a group of divers would have to share only one or two.
Most likely, these divers were lost in the cave’s deep darkness due to a device malfunction.
Trained Cave Divers in Accidents
After Exley’s accident investigation, a redesigned training program was developed to address the shortcomings found in the analysis.
Because an irrational number of skilled divers were continuously dying, Exley conducted more research into their fatalities to compile an updated list of potential reasons.
First, self-satisfaction and feeling sufficiently skilled with a higher level of training can be a more significant problem for a trained cave diver.
About 80% of deadly accidents occur at depths more than 45 meters (approx 150 ft).
In the early days of cave diving history, narcosis or deep air diving was responsible for many fatalities.
In today’s world, several are blamed on the wrong selection of gas.
However, the time limitations of responding to situations in deep water also pose an issue.
There is minimal time left to make the right decisions and avoid risky gas supply situations.
Cave dives that exceed 40 meters or about 130 ft require significant training, skill, and experience.
The inability to maintain a continuous guideline to reach open water is the second main reason for fatalities among experienced cave divers.
Trying to create carelessness leads to cave diving accidents, which they could have avoided. Even some divers do not correctly mark Ts, gaps, or jumps.
Several trained divers perform visual gaps and decide to dive without following standard safety procedures.
The divers assume they have environmental experience and can eliminate its risks.
While diving, some divers may not care about using a reel to tie the main line to open water or a safe escape zone.
When using a reel might potentially save the life of divers trying to get out of the water when eyesight is poor; there is no excuse for being lazy.
Once an unexpected event narrows one’s field of perception, using a reel might be the key to life and death.
Lack of sufficient gas reserves to escape the cave is the 3rd cause of death among experienced cave divers.
Understanding the psychological models that lead to such failures is not tricky.
If one team member consumes more gas than the others, that person should usually be able to call the dive.
If someone were teased, that person would probably get tired of being the one who usually burdened the team to go deeper into the cave.
At a particular stage, a limit is hit and won’t be surpassed without additional gear and gas.
But for some divers, it might be hard to fight the intense desire to go just a little bit further into the cave. So once more, they ignore the safety of themselves and the team.
Accidents That Happened to Solo Cave Divers
There has been an increase in the percentage of cave divers who have drowned when diving solo.
Due to the lack of backup in both the gear and the gas source, solo diving isn’t the primary issue that led to their death. Instead, it is one of the factors involved.
Several people perform the sport of cave diving without the presence of a dive buddy.
But those that proceed cautiously act with even greater caution regarding extra gas supplies and equipment.
At least two famous cave divers, one of whom was a trainer for cave diving, are known to have died while diving; they use a half plus a 200 psi turn mindset. The justification behind this is that no one will require the reserve gas.
The solo cave diver seems to be more likely to commit an error that cannot be undone, and they frequently test the limits of cave diving or violate the basic principles that are in place to safeguard them.
Some solo divers die when they are only 3 feet from the next stage bottle, not because they’re diving alone. However, the incident occurred because there was insufficient air supply to dive as expected.
Solo dives must be adequately prepared, and the diver must be ready to take on more significant risks.
Although several agencies and trainers have included solo diving on existing lists of potentially deadly mistakes, this type of diving is still an indirect factor in fatalities.
Modern Factors Causing Cave Diving Accidents
Nowadays, recovery divers are much more likely to find a body from depth inside a cave system.
A technical diver could have utilized a rebreather, DPVs, or another sophisticated exploration methodology to achieve a penetration range.
There has been a dramatic drop in accidents among recreational divers.
On the other hand, trained cave divers who go over their knowledge and skills appear to have a greater risk of meeting their end.
Like anything else in today’s society, humans tend to test the limits of what is possible and thus are restless when preparing for new situations.
Divers seem more inclined to apply maps to mark large lists of locations than to study individual cave systems as they progress through them.
For some people, the journey is less important than reaching the final location for cave diving.
Divers often fall into trouble as a result of this mindset. Therefore, before penetrating or deeper exploration, the cautious diver would be wise to slow down and tend to study the curve.
However, we also admire the cave divers who exceeded the limits of what humans can imagine.