Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lightning, Scuba Diving, and a media mistake

Sad story of a diver killed off of Florida on Tuesday from the Associated Press via the Detroit Free Press:
July 23, 2007


DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Lightning struck a diver’s oxygen tank as he surfaced off Florida’s Atlantic coast, killing him, authorities said.

The 36-year-old man was diving with three others Sunday off a boat near Deerfield Beach, about 40 miles north of Miami. He had surfaced about 30 feet from the boat when lightning struck his tank, said Deerfield Beach Fire Chief Gary Fernaays.

The other divers struggled to get the man back into the boat and radioed for help, Fernaays said. The victim, whose name was not immediately released, was rushed to the beach, where a rescue crew gave him CPR. He was pronounced dead at North Broward Medical Center in Pompano Beach.

A severe thunderstorm warning had been in effect Sunday for Broward County.
The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office planned an autopsy to determine if the man died by electrocution or drowned.
Ths is a sad situation, given that the metal of the tank is very attractive to lightning, its not good to be getting in or out of the water during a storm. If you under and deep enough you should be ok.

The mistake the AP makes is calling the gas tank an oxygen tank which doesn't make sense. Divers typically don't use pure oxygen as 100% oxygen at depths below 20 feet is toxic and can lead to convulsions and seizures underwater resulting in death.

The tank on a diver's back normally has either compressed air or a blend of air and more oxygen (called Nitrox) or helium (called Triox, Trimix or heliox depending on the helium and O2 and nitrogen percentages). Its unlikely that the diver was struck on a decompression bottle which would typically be oxygen.

While it seems like a small matter it is a very annoying misnomer and a grating inaccuracy to declare the gas tank on the diver's back as an oxygen tank.

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