Even though the following article by world class explorer Brett Hemphill is geared towards cave divers, open water divers can also follow this advice for safe dives.
BRETT B HEMPHILL
No matter how long you have been cave certified, or even if you are a cave instructor, learn how to apply these three words and enjoy the possibility of living to be old.
(Renewed) - To once again, take up, come back to, begin again, and start again.
(Progressive) - A movement or development toward a destination or a more advanced state, especially, gradually or in stages.
(Mindset) - A habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.
Always have a Renewed Progressive Mindset.
Never believe that previous experiences, knowledge or logistical preparedness will somehow carry you through the next environmental challenge you may encounter. Constantly renew your progressive mindset, especially during the dive, and know for certain that you are prepared logistically, mentally and physically before you continue. If not, stop, exit and live to explore another day.
Recently, I read an article, where a friend of mine was quoted on what may have been the final moments of another cave diver named, Agnes Milowka. The primary topic of the article was how the deceased maintained her calm right until the final moment when she breathed her last breath. Although this was a sad tragedy, I along with several other individuals recognized the inevitable possibility of Agnes's death not too long before it occurred. As not to go on in specific details, I will touch baser points. Agnes was intelligent, educated and extremely comfortable in the water. Shortly after her cavern and full cave certification, she befriended some very influential long-time cave divers. This fueled her passion, pride and desire even more. Within a very short period of time she began to assist them in cinematic productions pertaining to cave diving and then began to explore underwater caves, specifically in side-mount. Although she had training, her drive and desire were greater than her willingness to learn and progress over time, which possibly kept her from developing the finer points of equipment configuration, along with the rationality and forethought that comes with progressive experience. Even with that being said there are some individuals who just believe they're invulnerable.
Two of her previous dive partners recalled how she had gone into small restrictive areas in underwater caves with no apparent forethought or plan as to how she might turn around or get out except her confidence in an extremely good breathing rate. In both cases she returned after being stuck for quite some time.
This was a personal quote of Agnes - “you’ll never find new cave if all you do, is worry about getting stuck.”
I certainly don't want to detract from the amazing spirit and person that was Agnes Milowka. There was no doubt that you could feel her energy and passion when you were around her. Anyone who knew her, will tell you, she had an absolute love for cave diving, exploration and living life.
Sheck Exely was and still is one of the greatest underwater cave explorers. He was a pioneer and key innovator of many training and safety protocols we still implement in cave diving. Even though he had a complete understanding of the mathematical values of dissolved gases and their physical effects on divers, he also believed that metaphysically he could tolerate and sustain prolonged exposure to high levels of Nitrogen and Oxygen. Even in his last dive report prior to his death in the sinkhole Zacaton, April 6, 1994, he accounted having ringing in his ears and considerable visual equity issues at depth. Based on information following his passing, no significant adjustments were made to his breathing gases or the depths that they were placed at prior to his final dive.
Allow me to respectfully digress. Regardless of how many years you have been cave diving or exploring underwater caves. Every new cave environment demands that you utilize all your progressive experiences but also that you keep an open mind, recognize any and all environmental nuances that may affect equipment function, or its application, such as depth, water temperature, excessive silt, siphons, sharp geology, unstable geology. The list goes on and on and includes your buddy or even yourself depending on your health or mental state. Are you capable of weighing the consequences if any of the factors mentioned are singularly or collectively working against your survival? Are you willing to stop or exit? Never lead yourself to believe that somehow your skill set, or past experiences will guide or carry you through misguided or misplaced judgment especially when it concerns compiling environmental pressures.
Constantly renew your progressive mindset, especially during the dive, and know for certain that you are prepared logistically, mentally and physically before you make forward progress. If not, stop, exit and live to explore another day.
I wanted to pick two individuals who were explorers and have truly captivated the attention cave divers. Besides several medically related fatalities, I can only recall several trained cave divers who have perished where poor decision making and not implementing a renewed progressive mindset was not cause of death.
Brett B Hemphill