Sports Law • Risk Management

Scuba Diving Risk Management Lesson

In Hawaii, seldom a week goes by without hearing news of a drowning death. Even experienced swimmers, divers and surfers can be no match for strong ocean currents, undertows and waves. This week a remarkable rescue of a diver who survived the open ocean for 12 hours was a surprising outcome to a nearly fatal mistake. Scott Folsom was Scuba diving, using the boat’s anchor line to keep track of his location in the water. Unfortunately, his underwater exploration led him away from the line and currents carried him even further away.

Folsom, who had 32 years of diving experience, was carrying special equipment for deep sea diving, which included a sealed dry suit with fleece underneath that was sealed at his neck and wrists, a rebreather, an underwater scooter, a spare tank, a signaling device and an inflatable buoy. Despite this equipment, one thing after another went wrong and Folsom had to spend the night in the ocean, taking every step that he could to return to shore and to signal rescuers. Another mistake that let him to drift with the strong current was not tying himself to the bottom when he decompressed for 45 minutes.

Folsom admitted some key mistakes, but his experience certainly saved his life. Although his signaling device failed and he was only able to get within 200 yards from shore using his scooter, Folsom maintained his composure during his ordeal. He was able to relax and mostly keep warm by pulling his neoprene hood and mask over his face. Just as he was starting to feel chilly, he heard Coast Guard helicopters overhead and successfully signaled them shining the headlight of his scooter at the helicopter cockpit. A rescue swimmer was dropped into the water to stay with Folsom while it went to refuel. Thirty minutes later, the helicopter returned to complete the rescue and Folsom was able to return safely home to his wife and children.