A series of high-profile deaths of spear-fishers in Australia has sparked an interest amongst the Freediving community and also has apparently led to plans for a major new safety campaign.
One of the campaigners is New South Wales resident James Sakker, who was on a fateful five-day spear-fishing trip 75km northeast of Gladstone with Jacob Lollback who died during the trip. It is believed that Lollback drowned after blacking out in shallow water while spear-fishing, which involves free-diving or diving without compressed air tanks.
According to the Australian press, Jacob Lollback was a rising surf lifesaving star who had moved to the Gold Coast to compete after 15 years of lifesaving. His age and physical fitness have puzzled the Australian community as it is not understood how he could lose his life in the water.
Shallow water blackout is not entirely related to age and physical fitness. The primary reason for shallow water blackout, or SWB as it is known in the Freediving community is hyperventilation prior to a dive, which off-loads Carbon Dioxide from the system, reducing the urge to breathe while underwater. Upon surfacing the partial pressure of oxygen in the body drops suddenly, and the body is oxygen-starved. Hyperventilation should be used cautiously and more importantly divers should dive in buddy pairs. Should a diver experience SWB his buddy would be close enough to bring him to the surface and perform a rescue.
Mr Sakker is now working on a spear-fishing safety DVD, to be released for sale next year in dive shops.
The accident with Lollback is apparently not a single incident. Victorian television fishing show presenter Neil Tedesco drowned while free-dive training at a local gym pool in Frankston, and in November last year, 21-year-old Sunshine Coast university student and experienced diver Jason Palmer drowned while on a spear-fishing trip off Caloundra. Furthermore Spear-fisherman Mark Bryant, 31, also lost his life while free-diving off the Tweed Coast in early 2004.
Many attributed the deaths to a blackout.
Ben Noble, President of the Australian Freediving Association and AIDA Freediving Instructor has commented on this incident.
“Both spearfishing and freediving in Australia are growing at unprecedented rates, but unfortunately there is a growing trend of people relying too heavily on non face-to-face media such as internet forums to educate themselves, and further there are still people who are spearfishing and freediving without a competent buddy looking after them. Education is the key – there are many easily accessible options such as attending an accredited freedive course, joining a club and learning from peers. On a freediving course you will actually handle a victim and feel what it is like to lift someone up from depth, you can’t learn this on the internet. The initiative from Mr Sakker in producing this safety DVD is a great start to helping people understand Shallow Water Blackout, and this should be used in conjunction with some more hands-on education.”
There are a number of Freediving training agencies where Freedivers and spearfishers can learn how to dive safely and reduce their risk of injury while diving.