Editor’s Note: Eric Douglas is a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and the co-author with Dan Orr of the book “Scuba Diving Safety.” He is also the author of the Mike Scott Thriller Series and nonfiction books like “Dive-Abled: The Leo Morales Story” and “Heart Survivor: Recovery from Heart Surgery.” The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
My heart sank on Monday when I saw the initial reports of the fire onboard the M/V Conception in California, but I immediately understood the circumstances the victims of the tragedy were facing. A group of divers was on board sleeping. No doubt they were dreaming of the dives they would do the next day, excited to explore the wonders of the Channel Islands.
I can imagine that because I’ve been there – never off the M/V Conception, but I have dived on one of her sister boats. I have made many dives in the cold, clear and thrilling waters in the area. I lived in Southern California early in my diving career and loved the experience of diving in the kelp forests and experiencing the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve been diving for nearly 30 years. For the last 20 or so I have worked in the recreational scuba diving industry in one capacity or another. I have taught others to dive, I’ve written about diving and, most importantly, I’ve traveled and experienced all the joy and excitement of the ocean. Diving and the adventure of exploring the world’s oceans is a huge part of my life; much like it was for the divers who were sleeping on board that night.
Scuba diving comes with some level of risk. You are entering the water completely dependent on your equipment to live. You must monitor your air supply and your depth and time to avoid running out of air or what is commonly referred to as “the bends.” Divers plan for those risks and train to minimize them. For them, the risk of being under the water is worth it. It is impossible to fully explain what diving feels like to the non-diver.
For over a decade, in my column and elsewhere, I have reviewed and written about more than 100 dive accidents. None of them involved anything like this. In fact, I can’t remember any incident that even remotely compares to what happened on Monday, with over 30 feared dead and only five people found alive.
I can’t and won’t comment on what may have caused the accident on the M/V Conception. There will be an investigation and that will be determined.
Diving is often compared to being in space. In fact, NASA astronauts often train in pools to help them experience zero gravity. We recently celebrated the first moon landings and as part of that review of history, we were reminded of another tragedy – the fire on board Apollo 1 that killed three astronauts.
NASA and the nation grieved and then they got back to work, analyzing what went wrong and how to make things safer.
I can’t say what this will mean to the company that owns the boat, Truth Aquatics, in the weeks and months to come, or to their other boats. I do know that divers will continue to book dive trips on day boats and liveaboards just like the M/V Conception.
There will be a little more anxiety than normal, of course. The crew briefings, already thorough, will cover a bit more about fire safety and what to do in the event of an emergency. Other dive operations, in California and elsewhere around the world, will likely change their own protocols in some way, learning lessons from the accident.
That is the key to any accident response. You break down what happened and find ways to improve and learn from it.
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The loss of the M/V Conception and her passengers and crew is devastating. Everyone in the diving community feels the pain of the loss. Those were our friends, colleagues and, at the very least, kindred spirits. There will be memorials and remembrances of the loss as everyone attempts to come to grips with the tragedy.
My heart goes out to the families and friends of the divers lost and the entire California diving community. I pray they will be able to find peace. But diving will continue. The beauty of the underwater world calls to everyone who has been there.
I know I will be back in the water soon.