Shallow water blackout frequently causes death of persons that are snorkeling or free diving

A young 23 year old man by name Michael Morris was free diving on January 2009 with his friends at Lapakahi State Historical Park off the coast of North Kohala at Hawaii when he disappeared. After some time of search the was found by his dive buddies at the depth of 25 meters, who pulled him up to the surface, but in spite of all efforts including some intensive and prolonged CPR to save his life, Morris never recovered consciousness and died.

Similar fatal accident had happened to a popular 54 year old Idaho DJ Wayne Richards in September 2008 when he was snorkelling at Turtle Bay resort in Oahu, Hawaii. The man lost his consciousness and drowned when going on a prolonged dive under the water.

Both fatal accident were attributed to the so-called shallow water blackout, which is a rather common cause of the fatalities of the kind.

People need to be informed about this danger before going free diving. Each year many fatalities of the sort are being reported everywhere. In the same month of September in the same year 2008 at least two shallow water blackout accidents were reported by the media in California. On the same day two men died snorkeling off California shore. One of them was noticed floating unconscious with face down in the water, while the other drowned. Even if the rescuers acted promptly in both cases, none of the victims survived.

Shallow Water Blackout can be explained as underwater fainting due to hyperventilation causing lack of sufficient quantity of oxygen to feed the human brain. The SWB normally happens at the depth of 15 feet (5 meters) from the surface. At the said depth oxygen-hungry human lungs start actively absorbing oxygen from divers blood resulting in a very rapid development of hypoxia (oxygen starvation).

Each year a shallow water blackout takes away many lives, and the statistics is threatenning. The danger of hyperventilation as physiological condition often leading to fatal outcome is what every addict of free diving or snorkeling should be educated and warned about on every seaside resort.

Related: Emergency rapid ascent from depth may lead to air embolism, which is regarded one of the worst accidents in scuba diving.

Ukrainian Society of Professional Scuba Diving Instructors
Ukrainian professional diving instructors UDIP * Medicine