This is a post from a world renowned spear fishermen Cameron Kirkconnel and friends, i had to re-post this as this might one day save your life or your dive buddy
What it feels like to shoot your friend to save his life
Before you read further, read this and keep it in the back of your mind when you are diving. If you are just getting started as a freediver/spearfisherman, don’t let this scare you away from what is one of the most rewarding, exciting, and captivating sports instead let it serve as a reminder that even the best of us are only as strong as our last breath and need to know our limits and always dive with a partner. Get educated about Spearfishing and Freediving with Spearblog. Your comments and questions are always welcome. Also check us out on Facebook, Cameron Kirkconnell and Spearblog Dive safe.
STEVE BENNET’s story
I want to start this email off by giving God all the glory right now, the fact that I’m even around right now is nothing short of a miracle. Without Cameron Kirkconnell’s quick thinking and actions, I’m sure I’d be laying in 180ft of water off the west coast of Florida. This is my account of the incident, and much of it will overlap with Cam’s which I will include at the end of this email for those who have not read it. This all occurred while freediving, there were no tanks involved whatsoever. I was wearing board shorts and a rashguard, no wetsuit and no weightbelt, water temp was around 85*F.
We had planned this to be the last dive of the day, 70 miles offshore of Englewood, FL, in 180 ft. of water and it was approaching 6:00pm. On a previous dive, we had spotted a cubera snapper in the 100lb class, between 75 and 100 ft, and discussed our tactics on the surface prior to the drop. We’d always joked around about rigging a fishing rod directly to the shooting line on the gun to reel the fish in, and for one time out of the thousands of combined shots that we had taken, Cameron decided to give it a try. After a thorough 5-7 minute surface breathe up, I dropped down to somewhere between 75 and 100 ft (I was not wearing a freediving computer) to look for the fish. After about a minute of searching, I decided to head for the surface as I could not find the fish. Cameron observed much of my ascent and dropped down to look around for the cubera with his “fishing reel Hawaiian-breakaway setup.” I remember swimming upwards and seeing ripples on the surface appx. 25 ft away in the crystal clear water, and instantaneously, bam, I was out cold, shallow water black out. As Cameron lined up the shot on the cubera, the white handle of my speargun sinking past him caught the corner of his eye, moments before he pulled the trigger. At this time, he looked up to see me sinking head first, unconscious and convulsing, about 60 ft away from him laterally in the water.
He immediately dropped his weight belt and swam full speed at me with hopes to get a shot off at the meat of my thigh for a good holding shot, but could not be confident that such a shot would hold at a distance. His second thought was to shoot my calf, but the bones of my lower leg blocked the shot as I was facing him. For a split second, my fiberglass longblade fins turned broadside towards him and he squeezed the trigger, wham, a perfect penetrating shot to the center of my fin. Cam has said that, at this point, it was the closest he had ever been to blacking out himself. However, he made it to the surface and proceeded to instruct everyone on the boat to cut the achor line and reel in his shaft, because I was on the other end and had drowned.
When I reached the boat, I had been under water for appx. 3 and a half to 4 minutes at depth; my body was limp and completely blue, I was also bleeding out of my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I had a faint pulse but was unconscious and not breathing, and my airway was not opened. This is what is known as a “dry drowning” because the glottis in the back of my throat had closed, not allowing air or water to enter or exit. Cam tilted my chin back and head to the side, blowing air across my cheeks and under my eyes to stimulate breathing as you would an infant.
At this point, still unconscious, some foamy, blood-like fluid (called “sputum,” the result of a pulmonary edema) leaked from the side of my mouth. After a short time I sputtered a small cough and took what Cam described as a 1% lung capacity breath. Another 30 seconds later, I did this again with more sputum foaming from my mouth, and after 10 minutes or so of this repetitive action, I had about 15% lung capacity. This entire time, Cameron and the others on the boat were on the radio with the Coast Guard to get oxygen out to us ASAP. I can’t say that I was aware for much of the time prior to this, but I remember hearing Cam’s voice assuring me that everything would be okay as I drifted in and out of awareness in my own mind. Another 5 minutes later, after a total of 15-20 minutes of unresponsiveness, I finally slurred out some words and could lightly squeeze his hand. From this point on, as the boat was speeding towards shore, I slowly regained motor functions and lung capacity (up to about 30%), until the Coast Guard helicopter arrived, 45 minutes after the original accident, still 55 miles offshore. They lifted me in a basket into the copter, and I was at Tampa General Hospital within 30 minutes.
I still had very little lung capacity as they were filled with the sputum from the pulmonary edema, I was throwing up blood that was in my stomach, and my entire body ached. Luckily I dodged two other bullets which were of concern: the blood from my ears and eyes. The blood from my ears was caused by the fact that I had not equalized as I sunk from appx. 25ft to 80ft, but somehow I did not burst my ear drums and my hearing was not affected. The blood from my eyes was a result of the massive mask squeeze on my face caused by the fact that I had also not blown air into my mask to compensate for compression as I was sinking, but once again I escaped without injury. I spent a total of one day in the Trauma Center, two days in the Intensive Care Unit, and one day on the hospital floor, with the majority of the time spent concentrating on reducing the amount of fluid in my lungs. There was absolutely no long term damage to my body or brain, and my lung capacity is back to nearly 100% after only days.
I can not stress enough how amazingly fortunate I was. I am not aware of anyone else surviving a shallow water blackout after being retrieved from such depth without major physical and mental damage. Every little thing worked out perfectly, and if anything was different, I can say with 100% confidence that I would not be here. If I had watched the whole thing from a third person standpoint, I would also say that there is no way I should have survived. Why we decided to rig the gun to the fishing reel on the boat for this one shot out of the thousands we had taken in our lives, I don’t know. How my gun sank right next to Cam, I don’t know. How he saw the gun before pulling the trigger on the fish and thus not having a shot left for me, I don’t know. Why the shaft penetrated my fin perfectly without cracking it or breaking, I don’t know. Why my fin didn’t slip off while I was being reeled in resulting in me sinking, I don’t know. Why my ear drums didn’t burst and my eyes sucked out of my head, I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m here, and God is great. Cameron’s multiple freedive spearfishing world records speak for themselves as far as his diving ability is concerned, but I’m sure he would agree that this was the best shot of his life. There is nobody else on the planet that I would trust more to take a long range shot directly at me to save my life in 200ft of water.
The scariest part is that this could happen to anybody at anytime, and those with more experience are even more susceptible to shallow water blackout. If this email and my story saves one person then everything that has happened was more than worth it. To everyone, dive safe, always dive with a buddy, and don’t push your limits because NO FISH IS WORTH YOUR LIFE!
|The helicopter coming to pick steve up|
CAMERON KIRKCONNELL’s story
Sad but rewarding story from yesterday diving. I am going to write it all out in full but am stil la bit shook up and need to help out his family in the hospital today.
Was diving in 180 ft of water with a friend Steve Bennet who is a 21 year old from Tarpon Springs. We were diving on an area of broken bottom in strong current from an anchored boat. Making one dive down and getting swept away each time before swimming back to the boat and resting to make another
he dove to down and was on his way back to the surface, I watched and he looked fine and regretfully left the surface myself and headed down. I dove and while I was down at 75 ft his gun floated past me,
i immediately looked around and saw my friend upside down drifting unconcious and convulsing about 60 ft away at that same depth.
With a strong current and no one else in the water and one chance I ditched my weight belt and swam hard towards him extending the gun to shoot him. I was well past my breath hold limit and knew that there was no point of us both dying but there was only this once brief glimmer of hope to even get his body. I couldn’t get close enough to be confident of penetrating his meat in his leg shooting him in the fin headed for the surface and was as close as I have ever been to blacking out in my life. before the dive, by pure luck we had secured my gun to a huge fishing reel on the boat in anticipation of me shooting a 100 lb Cubera snapper which we had seen at depth.
I screamed for the boat to cut the anchor line, reel up my gun because it had Steve on it.
Suffice to say despite my yelling of orders and trying to tell them quickly that steve had drown and we were about to have to perform CPR on him they had no idea the gravity of the situation.we pulled him to the boat and he was completely limp, bleeding from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears and was completely blue.
I put him on the back of the boat and checked his vitals immediately found a faint pulse and no breathing. From freedive and medical training, opened his airway while talking confidently and softly to him and blowing lightly across his cheeks just under his his to trigger the breathing reflex like a new born. within the first minute and just before I was going to start rescue breaths, some foamy blood leaked from the side of his mouth and i turned him on his side and supported him so as to ease the flow of fluid from his lungs.a short while later he sputtered a bit and was able to take in what i would estimate was a 1% capacity breath.
20 seconds later he made another one and expelled more foamy blood from his mouth and nose. with each sputter he expelled more and within 10 minutes he could take about a 15% breath but was still completely unresponsive and from what i could see in a comatose state with only his body barely functioning.
The whole time we are on the radio with the coast guard and are 70 miles off shore.
After 15 minutes he started to slurr and for the first time was able to squeeze my hand slightly letting me know that he could hear me.
From there i sat him in my arms and over the next 20 minutes as we sped in as fast as the boat would go he regained more and more motor functions and was able to talk more and more. 45 minutes from the time it happened and still 55 miles off shore we rendezvous with a coast guard helicopter and airlifted him to Tampa General hospital.
He has severe lung damage but is alive and has no noticeable brain damage. He is stable and will live a lot happier having not been shot in the leg or having sunk to 180 feet never to be seen again. The best shot I have ever made
This is the single heaviest thing that was ever happened to me or any diver I’ve ever talked to. Throughout the ordeal if i was looking at it from the outside i would have told anyone with a 99% certainty there was no chance he would ever regain conciousness or be able to be recovered from that depth or the fin would have stayed on or the second diver would have been able to get him or the fin dould not have split. Once in the boat… the worst sight I’ve ever seen. NO one should be able to live through that. the human body is an amazing thing and that he came back is a miracle.Thank your lucky stars tonight because it is possible for everything to align perfectly and work out sometimes
CAMERON KIRKCONNELL’s story
It has been 3 weeks since this happened with Steve and I am only now able to talk about it without fighting back tears. For the first week I couldn’t sleep worth a shit or close my eyes without having flashbacks about it. The most painful image that I couldn’t shake was the moment before I pulled the trigger when his body turned to face me and in that split second realized I couldn’t penetrate the bones in his legs and would either have to shoot him in fin or somewhere in the torso. At 20 feet and with no air there was no room for error.
While it was happening, from the moment I saw his gun… There was no thought. It was complete focus and calm and instinct. My close dive buddies and I have talked about this for years as the kind of diving we do is extreme and we have to take everything into account and every scenario to make sure we don’t have to think in times like these… That image flashed for 3 solid days without fail.
With it my mind second guessed every time it appeared and ate itself up reflecting on what could have been.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I closed them again to shake the image from my head.
The pressure of the shot was felt.
The wrong decision to grab him and drown myself contemplated.
The decision to go to the surface without trying to reach him.
had I not been patient and only shot the medium sized Cubera Snapper in front of me instead of waiting for the 90 lb one with the white spot on his face that I mistook the butt of Steve’s gun for. If I missed… and grabbed him… I would have died alongside my friend never to be seen again. … and if i didn’t grab him… it would have haunted me the rest of my life having not tried to save him. What if we hadn’t been able to revive him in the boat. What would I tell his parents? My parents? My friends? Myself? You cannot let your friends die without doing everything in your power to save them.
As selfish as it is… a friend of ours tells a story of growing up in South Africa and a group of four divers working 100+ deep water off the remote coast of Mozambique. One guy passes out on a deep dive and his partner dives down to recover him… and blacks out as well on his way up from depth. The third diver descends and grabbing his freind on the bottom heads for the surface and on the way up blacks out and now all three bodies are on the bottom in 120 feet of water. One guy left. On the surface. 500 miles from help.
I can’t imagine the mental strain he had to go through deciding not to dive to help his three friends.
Debate it, but he made the right decision. He lived. Anyone of us would have to be in a straight jacket after the mental abuse you’d inflict upon yourself swimming then driving back to tell their families that you just couldn’t help them. The most helpless feeling in the world.
I got dozens of phone calls and emails from friends and family and random people from all over the world.
I didn’t answer most. But appreciated everyone’s heart felt support for what Steve and I went through.
Through the calls I heard many a story of friends who had recovered others or had friends, sons, brothers or fathers die in their arms. These are the people I called back if I could stomach it. Too often people are embarassed by blacking out. It happens and you hear a rumor about it and it goes away. We’re afraid that our peers will think less of us. They’ll question that we’re a good diver. That we were doing something wrong and are a kook. This needs to change. By not learning from our mistakes and informing everyone of what happens we are contributing the problem. Steve is going to be the hero for years to come.
Through his honesty and selflessness in bringing this story to the mainstream he will both shock and calm all who this story touches. Diving deeper and longer will always have its allure. It is possible to do safely, with the right training and most importantly with the right maturity. Whether you are 15 or 50 that maturity is still the most important thing.
You need to know your body. You need to be humble. You need to know your limits and be happy with them no matter how deep everyone else is or says they are going. You need to be in shape for the diving at hand. You need to know that you will get another chance to shoot a fish. That you can let your gun go even though it is $1000 and your favorite but not worth your life. You need to know when to cancel your dive plans due to the visibility, current, sharks, boat traffic, rain and fog and visibility out of the water for recovering divers. You need to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back and trust them to make the right call to send help when need be.
You need to be mature enough to know…
how to make that most difficult decision when the time comes to save yourself when a friend is already dead or dying and there is no hope of recovering him without killing yourself.
I would like to think that he will watch over you from heaven but I for one would never be able to forgive myself if someone died trying to save me.
My friends that have saved someone from blacking out all have had the same reactions.
In their minds they have seen their friend or loved one die right in front of them. They know that it is up to them to keep them alive and all the while a thousand things are running through their mind preparing for the worst. They have just witnessed the most tragic thing imaginable and had the entire weight of that persons life on their shoulders even if it is only for a few brief seconds.
When the victim recovers consciousness, they usually only remember seeing the surface or taking one breath and now are confused as to where their gun is or why you are looking at them so upset and scared and have them in your arms. While you were stressed out more than you have ever been in your life they have taken a brief hiatus from consciousness.
When Steve finally came to and was able to talk…
One of the first recognizable things he said was Thank you. ( and I Love you as well but I don’t want to get his girlfriend jealous)
That is the single most comforting thing I have ever heard in my life. If you have never done this for someone that has recovered you from blacking out or a Samba, make a point of it. I don’t know if I have a weak heart but it is imperative that you realize what that person has been through in the past few moments. The bond between divers is a strong one and we need to be there for each other. Upon hitting the shore that day I immediately called Steves Father.
When he picked up the phone the wave of emotion that had been built up for the past few hours broke and I cried uncontrollably as I told him how sorry I was. As i write this wipe away tears and replay it in my mind I’m still so sorry. I wish I had watched Steve closer and never had to go through all of that. I’m so thankful that he is alive. I’m so thankful that he and his family didn’t blame me and welcomed me with open arms and thanked me and hugged me at the hospital and continue to help make sure that we can keep this from happening to more of the amazing people in our diving lives that mean so much to us.
Save lives starting with your own. Become a better safer diver and those around you will follow.