In the last 92 hours, the USA mainstream media has reported a double scuba diving fatality in Florida. What is unusual in this case is that the two victims were aged 7 and 9.
On Friday 23 April 2021, Zale Dudas (9) and Saxon Nairne (7), along with their father Rodney Nairne, visited a property in Jensen Beach. It is believed that the purpose of the visit was to demonstrate a DPV or Diver propulsion vehicle.
According to mainstream media reports, the siblings were “described by their father as experienced swimmers and proficient divers”. This is not a surprise because the family are ardent and experienced scuba and technical divers, and several members have done work in scuba diving.
It is quite normal for children to follow their parents', and grandparents', passion. Be it caving, climbing, canoeing, cooking or indeed scuba diving. If the family also works in scuba diving, any offspring will certainly be taught to swim as soon as it is possible, because part of their life will be around water. It is highly likely they will also learn to scuba dive at a young age.
The mainstream media has reported that the children “were given permission to use the pool along with a scuba tank. The adults told detectives they walked away from the pool area into the garage to look at another piece of equipment, leaving the children unattended for a short amount of time.”
When one of the adults returned to the pool, the children were found at the bottom of the pool with the cylinder. It is possible they may have been underwater for at least 10 minutes.
The children were pulled from the water and CPR performed before emergency responders arrived. The children were transported in critical condition to a hospital. Despite every attempt to revive them, both children died on Tuesday 27 April.
While their death brings us despair, it brings others life. That we know of, they saved seven people’s lives. The Dudas Family
There is one small crumb of comfort in all this. The children's mother, Suzie Dudas, thoughtfully donated the children's precious organs. This generous act was completed on Friday 30 April, and will have saved seven people's lives. A very brave and decent thing to do.
We can support
We are a tight community. I know the family. I have met the children. This has devastated the Dudas family and distressed divers around the world. As I write this, a ‘GoFundMe’ page has been launched.
I am fully aware of just how the Covid-19 pandemic has hit my earnings and those of my family, friends and colleagues. However, for divers that are financially secure or who have means, any philanthropic donation, large or small, will be most welcome. The funds raised will help defray the inevitable expenses – the medical, funeral and legal costs. At present the family are existing. It is going to take a very long time before they begin to live again.
In the meantime, the double fatality and the cylinder is being investigated by the Martin County Sheriff's Office. It is not known if the cylinder was labelled. It does seem it wasn’t analysed prior to being given to the children. It was analysed post-incident, in front of a Sheriff attending the fatalities, by the father and a friend of the father. It is believed that the cylinder was filled with helium. This gas does not contain oxygen, the gas needed to sustain consciousness and life.
Helium is a useful bulk gas for technical diving because it is inert. It has no toxic or anaesthetic properties and does not affect the heart or haemoglobin. We use helium as a diluent, and add it to oxygen and nitrogen to make 'Trimix' (a mix of three gases), because it helps reduce the amount/concentration of oxygen in the mix. Helium is very easy to breathe, and like air / 21% there is no taste or smell to it.
"When I was a kid I watched my friend pass out for a few seconds from huffing too much balloon helium to make his voice funny. Didn't take much to do it. He was totally fine and got right back up to keep joking around. Easily deadly underwater though." A post on a diving forum
Duke Dive Medicine stated on a forum "Pure helium will act like an oxygen vacuum, because of the large diffusion gradient between the bloodstream and the lungs. This results in extremely rapid hypoxemia, which would lead quickly to irreversible tissue damage. So, minute for minute, it would be much more difficult to resuscitate someone who had breathed pure helium, and that's on dry land. In the water, an unconscious individual would drown quickly."
The children would have breathed the gas until they blacked out / fell unconscious and drowned. The process would have been painless and exceedingly swift.
It is a common assumption in diving that if a cylinder is unlabelled, it contains straight air, ie 21% (21% oxygen, 79% nitrogen) and therefore it is SAFE TO DIVE to approximately 50 metres / 164 feet. In recent years, research by Gavin Anthony has demonstrated that it is better that 21% or air is dived to 40 metres / 131 feet because of gas density. The air effectively gets harder to breathe the deeper you go. Gavin's research was presented by Professor Simon Mitchell at the 2016 'Rebreathers and Scientific Diving' Conference. (Follow the link to download the proceedings. Gavin's research starts on page 66).
It’s only got air when the analysers say it’s air. Analyse your gas. Michael Thomas
However, I digress. I know, without having to think too hard, this is the third diving death I am aware of where unanalysed gas was assumed to be air, and it was breathed with fatal consequences.
Dive centre staff who pump compressed air and gas may well be given cylinders that contain other gas, than air. Some dive centres have therefore adopted the policy of analysing and labelling every cylinder after filling, no matter what gas it was pumped with. This includes air cylinders.
Analysing and labelling your cylinder is NEVER a waste of time. Rosemary E Lunn
This policy is not always popular with customers, who have objected to having to analyse their cylinders before being allowed to leave the dive centre with them. “This is a pointless waste of time”. Analysing and labelling your cylinder is NEVER a waste of time, and being asked to do so by a dive centre indicates they are operating with best practice procedures. Be grateful and say thank you.
You WILL analyse your gas!
I got lucky with my technical diving instructor. I was fortunate enough to be trained by Fraser Purdon. I am all too well aware that his thorough and competent training has kept me alive.
Fraser Purdon gave me a hard time when it came to gas analysis. I always had to have a gas analyser, tape, a pen and a calculator in my hand before I could start the process. Once I had analysed my gas, I had to write on the tape the MOD (Maximum Operating Depth), the percentage of gas, what it was, the date and sign it. I was not allowed to walk away mid-process to grab a cup of tea or answer my phone. Some divers may feel that Fraser was being a bit of a Drill Sergeant the way he hammered home how to analyse gas, but looking back on it, I would not have changed a thing. His rigorous teaching has stuck with me and kept me safe. Every time I pick up an analyser, I can hear his northern voice in my head, telling me what to do.
If I could change one thing...
Being a 'Purdonite' has meant that I always watch how others divers behave when they analyse their gas. And frankly I have seen some pretty cavalier practices and "can’t be arsed" attitudes by divers around the world. To be fair, I have also seen good practice. However, if I could change one thing, it would be firmly teaching rigorous gas analysis and labelling from every instructor, in all agencies, and we start this at open water. We need to drum into all students from the first day that they need to understand how to check and label their cylinder after they have confirmed the gas mix. If it is air, the cylinder is marked with 21%. This would instil proper behaviour and best practice from day one.
If any good is to come from this fatal dive, I would like it to be this. That every diver from now on treats every scuba cylinder they pick up with suspicion until proved otherwise. If every diver worked on the assumption that their cylinder was filled with gas that can kill them, until it is analysed and proved to be safe, this will certainly help save a life or two in the future.
As soon as there is a diving death reported, the forums and Facebook groups light up more powerfully than the Las Vegas strip. The situation is not helped in that the mainstream media are not particularly reliable or accurate. Just look at the reporting on the Thai cave rescue.
Yes how did they die????
There have been some sensible posts. “Best not to be judge and jury on this tragedy until the facts are known.” “This family will endure this burden forever. I see no point adding to their pain.”
But too many divers seem to ghoulishly drool and speculate over the smallest detail, positively lapping up anything, like some sort of juicy gravy.
“Are the parents being charged with neglect?”
“How did they die?”
“Do you know how much helium and how much oxygen was in the tank?”
“Yes how did they die????”
Then there are other posts...
"read my comments and prepare yourself for an internet spanking"
This is not the time or place, and frankly, it never is. No diving fatality is a public entertainment service. It is about time we had a bit of decorum and respect when it comes to discussing fatalities. I get that lessons want and need to be learnt, but this rabid feasting is just horrible. If you have never lost someone through diving, you may not understand just how raw, berserk and hollow you feel. It is as though your body and soul has been grated, and the only thing remaining is your skeleton. Watching the frantic frenzy for any scrap of information from your community is crushing.
Without knowing more about the circumstances it’s impossible to answer these questions
An industry colleague, Vikki Batten, posted this on social media. "This week a tragedy struck a family in our industry with the devastating loss of their two children. I don’t know the circumstances and, I suspect, neither do most of the people speculating about it. There is a time for analysis, but this is not it. We can really only send our heartfelt condolences and thank goodness we are not in their shoes. If you are lucky enough to have children in your life give them an extra hug next time you see them and be grateful that you can."
The Dudas family has asked for no speculation at this time. Rosemary E Lunn
The Dudas family has asked for no speculation at this time. They have also said that they will release details once an investigation and the authorities have completed their work.
Make a difference
If you really want to make a difference, think about what you post, where you post and what you say. And when it is time to dive, analyse your cylinder, even though you know you are diving air. Because one day, you may well not be.
We are both devastated. Rodney Nairne
On 28 July 2021 Rodney Nairne - Zale Dudas and Saxon Nairne's father - contacted me. He stated that both he and Suzie had agreed to donate the children's organs.