Trapped below and running out of air

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Bradly Preston
On Memorial Day Weekend 2016, my friend Ben and I departed on a routine spearfishing trip. That afternoon was perfect for being on and in the water. We were catching fish like it was no one’s business. At 4 p.m., we noticed a large Parrotfish approximately 40 feet down near the bottom. The depth was well within my ability and training. I free dove down and hid behind a small reef and waited for the perfect opportunity. Approximately 60 seconds later, the fish moved closer and I had it in my sights. Approaching the end of my breath, I pulled the trigger and landed a direct hit.

As soon as I pulled the trigger, the spear passed directly through the fish and lodged itself in a reef. Short on air, I began my ascent to the surface and felt a sharp tug on my ankle. The line that was attached to the spear gun had tangled around my ankle and anchored me to the reef. That’s when my training kicked in; remaining calm, I attempted to unwrap the line but was unsuccessful. I pulled as hard as I could to free myself, however the elasticity and 500 pound test of the line reacted like a bungee cord. Every time I swam toward the surface, the line stretched and pulled me back down. With the spear still stuck in the reef and the line wrapped around my ankle, I was running out of air and my vision began to fade.

After two failed attempts to free myself, I instinctively grabbed my knife that was attached to my leg and vigorously cut the line. When Ben noticed me struggling, he also grabbed his knife and began the descent to free me. A few seconds later, I was finally able to free myself and swim back to the surface.

As Ben and I both ascended, we recognized the benefits of our training. If it wasn’t for our training, I may not be alive today. No doubt we were seconds away from a bad situation.

Ben and I are both trained SCUBA divers and very comfortable in the water. During training we were taught how to handle emergency situations while remaining calm. Entanglement is a known water hazard for divers. Divers are instructed to carry knives as part of their basic personal equipment to combat this danger.

We were spearfishing as a team that day. Ben was already on his way down to help me when he noticed me struggling. Had my attempt to free myself failed, or had I blacked out, Ben would have been there to save his fellow Airman. It was comforting to know, in this unfortunate situation, that there was someone there that had my back and knew how to respond to the situation.

When you plan your activities, imagine having to deal with this emergency alone if separated from your buddy or if you didn’t have one with you. The tendency to get complacent leads to a lower standard of safety. Do not be complacent, be vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings.

I almost didn’t bring my dive knife with me that day because I never had to use it. This last minute decision saved my life. Before you go out on your next trip, have the right gear, a good plan and the right training. My life was saved and I was able to return home to my wife and kids.

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