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Wreck Fever Might Make Dive Your Last

Date Posted: 2001-03-09

Rarely do I dust off my soapbox, however the recent articles appearing in Japan Update and Stars & Stripes about the “rediscovered” USS Emmons is an accident waiting to happen. Finding and diving on a supposedly undiscovered wreck brings on a childhood excitement like Christmas morning. Images of Sea Hunt and Jaques Cousteau race through the imagination and builds into a ‘wreck fever”. The hyped articles have already created quite a stir. However, they failed to mention that a member of their “expedition” suffered serious decompression sickness requiring hyperbaric treatment, an instructor no less.

The wreck lies right at the limit of recreational depth limits, which makes it very tempting to dive. At these depths a diver has only five to 15 minutes of no decompression time. Imagine diving on a wreck the length of a football field, as you glide above the deck and superstructure it is eerily peaceful compared to what the final moments must have been like for the crew. You can almost see and hear the big guns firing at Kamikazes aimed for the ship. Sailors scrambling to put out fires and save their ship as it was hit repeatedly. You suddenly realize where you’re at and check your gauges. The shock of how much air and time are gone is distorted by the haze of nitrogen narcosis. On a ship this size five to 15 minutes is nothing and goes by very quickly. The temptation of penetrating the hull and possibility of silting or disorientation exists. Unexploded ordnance, entanglement, being “blown off the wreck” by strong currents and not being able to make it back to the anchor line, add to the danger.

This type of dive should not be considered a recreational dive. Diving on this wreck is a technical dive and as such requires extensive planning, specialized equipment and proper training. For those who intend to dive the Emmons, let me suggest they read The Last Dive by Bernie Chowdhury. His riveting account of his accident while also diving a large wreck at the same depth is sobering. Although a recognized pioneer of wreck diving, he was unable to deal with the synergistic effects of increased exertion at depth and nitrogen narcosis. He admits that his wrong decisions almost cost him his life. Before being enticed by wreck fever, obtain the proper training first, because you may not get a second chance.

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