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freediving fatality help

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
It can take a long time to get an up-to-date response or contact with relevant users.


New Member
Jul 21, 2004
Hey guys! new to the forum here. I am requesting some help from you guys in a research project. I am currently working as a research intern with DAN and have been compiling a database of Freediving Fatalities similar to the Scuba fatality database that they maintain. I've had great help from other forums and listservs and would love any input you guys have! If you have any cases, links, information, I'd really appreciate the help. You can always send the cases directly to DAN too. Cheers!


Let's look at the main different categories (I have been following these since 1998)

1. Recreational freediving
[i.e. freediving for fun, to look at things, without depth or time being the main goal]
Number of publicized fatalities since 1998: 1 (Loren Maas)
Cause of death remains unknown (he died while still on the bottom, it was not SWB, perhaps a CO2 blackout)

2A. Deep constant ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, TRAINING WITH A PARTNER
Number of publicized fatalities since 1998 = F = 0

2B. Deep constant ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, TRAINING WITHOUT A PARTNER (ALONE)
F = a few, mostly unpublicized, perhaps 2 or 3 since 1998

3. Deep constant ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, OFFICIAL COMPETITION
F = 0

4. Deep constant ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT
F = 0

5A. Deep variable ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, TRAINING WITH A SAFETY SYSTEM
F = 0, although Benjamin Franz suffered a massive stroke induced by DCS in 2000 or 2001, eventually made a full recovery after a few years

5B. Deep variable ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, TRAINING WITHOUT A SAFETY SYSTEM
One pubilicized fatality, Cyril Isoardi in France in 1998 or 1999

6. Deep variable ballast freediving in the ocean/lake, WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT
F = 1 (Audrey Mestre Oct 12, 2002)

7A. Pool apnea (static/dynamic) TRAINING WITH A PARTNER
One publicized fatality since 1998, in sweden, in a weakly supervised training session (the victim went unconscious and unnoticed for a few minutes)

7B. Pool apnea (static/dynamic) TRAINING WITHOUT A PARTNER
F = Many (some probably unpublicized) perhaps 3-10 per year?

8. Pool apnea (static/dynamic) OFFICIAL COMPETITION
F = 0

9. Pool apnea (static/dynamic) WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT
F = 0

10. Breath-hold spearfishing in the ocean/lake FOR FUN
F = MANY (on the order of perhaps a hundred per year in the mediterranean/Europe)

11. Breath-hold spearfishing in the ocean/lake OFFICIAL COMPETITION
F = very few or zero (decompression sickness is very common though, with emergency recompression treatment standard procedure)

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
Keeping with Eric's grouping:
7B. Pool apnea (static/dynamic) TRAINING WITHOUT A PARTNER
F = 99-02-18, Northern Copenhagen, Tom Kornow, drowned at the end of a training session after his other training partners had left the pool area.
thanks guys! Just to clarify, I'm looking for all breath hold, whether competitive or not, this includes spearfishers, recreation, etc. I appreciate the help so far!

Keep in mind that breath-hold spearfishing is so dramatically separate from other types of freediving, it would be akin to including NASA astronaut fatalities as part of SCUBA diving accidents, since they both use rebreathers and need to decompress, therefore they are the same activity. Similarly, there is a huge difference between a SCUBA diver going for a 'deep air world record' of 160m compared to a recreational scuba diver doing fun diving at 20ft. To intermix the fatalities is highly confusing and misleading.

For example, do you want to include fatalities which happen by holding your breath in a bath-tub? Because there are many! Do you want to differentiate between inhale diving and exhale diving?

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I know these are very different activities, which is why they are being classified as different activities. DAN has set the parameter of breath-hold diving which is a very broad term and I've had to try and determine from this what is acceptable to include. We've (DAN) have come up with a variety of different categories that this might encompass, and will treat each as separate, but cataloguing each so that it is recorded and can be compared amongst each other.

In response to your talking about deep tec diving and recreational diving, the scuba fatality database has both, but they are categorized separately under the umbrella of scuba, and that is similar to what DAN is interested in for freediving.

Jenn :)
do you want to include fatalities which happen by holding your breath in a bath-tub?

At first I thought of some funny answers to this, but after more thought my answer is if it was a freediver practicing statics, then yes. Whether he/her was in a pool or in their bathtub there is a danger when doing apnea in water. This danger is greatly multiplied when there is no spotter. It needs to be recorded, if nothing else to reinforce the need to have others present.

Not to split hairs, but wasn't Audrey's case a no-limits dive not a variable ?
Well, no limits IS actually variable weight diving, but without restrictions as in 'variable weight'. In this context grouping the two together I think is ok, the mutual treat is the sled and the great depths. -chris
1. Recreational freediving
[i.e. freediving for fun, to look at things, without depth or time being the main goal]
Number of publicized fatalities since 1998: 1 (Loren Maas)
Cause of death remains unknown (he died while still on the bottom, it was not SWB, perhaps a CO2 blackout)

If you include Australia in the survey then you could probably ad at least 10 or more to that figure. I think just last year we had at least 3 people blackout & drown while snorkeling in the barrier reef. They even went as far as trying to make it a law to ban hyperventilating in QLD. Because someone found a quote that SWB was caused by hyperventilating. Don't know how they were going to enforce that one :duh

We have plenty of spearfishing deaths each year, we have a lot of people spearfishing in Australia. The majority don't dive with a buddy, well not nearby anyway.
We have had at least 2 people drown in the last year whilst trying to hold their breath in a pool, without a buddy. Well actually one case did have a buddy, was a guy with his girlfriend there. My guess is she didn’t notice he had blacked out, then perhaps after a while later pulled him out, or perhaps panicked and ran to get help ?

Some of the cases it may be hard to determine exactly what happened. Ie a body was found in a pool or the ocean, most likely cause of death is blackout then drowning. We also get a lot of deaths from just drowning, a lot of them tourists that can’t swim well getting hit by a wave, or stuck in a current etc. So some cases may be hard to determine the cause of drowning. ie a snorkeler getting caught in a current can’t swim well, takes in some water then panicks and drowns.
Originally posted by Walrus
Don't know how they were going to enforce that oneB]

Um derr.... the Hyperventilation Police... :duh
Every year there are a few freediving spearfishermen here in Hawaii that go out....but don't come back.

I know few of the details, but a search of newspaper archives (Honolulu Advetiser/Maui News), might turn up some info.

But at the same time, little of that makes the news....it's looked at as an unfortunate risk of the activity.

You might have to query some of the goverment agencies in Hawaii for more real info.......
If someone dies while snorkeling in 15 feet of water, I wouldn't classify it as a freediving death. The person probably choked on water in their snorkel. If the person was 'snorkeling' in water where the bottom wasn't visible from the surface, then I would call it a freediving death, although it still isn't a sure bet.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I don't know which countries you want to include...

We don't have freediving developed here, and if we have any freediving fatalities, they fall into the recreational category. We also can't really hear about them, since the police records them as drownings, no matter whether people wore masks or not.

Now if we talk about spearfishing, we have every case recorded and thanks God they are not too many:

Recreational: 2, competitor on a vacation in Greece and a friend of mine struck by lightning while sitting in a boat with 4 more people, only he dieid. I don't know whether the last one falls into your category, Jenn...

Training: 2, One back in the 80s went training in rough seas despite warnings, and was found on the next day by a search party including fellow competitors and judges. Last year on September 6 I lost another friend of mine who went training with a buddy. His buddy left the water but he decided to stay some more. He never returned to shore and the S&R team failed to recover the body. He was found by fishermen few weeks later.

Competition: 2, back in the 70s, or early 80s one guy was found by his buoy after he failed to show up at the finish. He "dry drowned" (no water in the lungs) as far as I know, and there was a fish on his shaft. Another case dates back to the 80s again when a competitior went missing during a competition in Turkey.

Wish that list never to grow longer.

To define snorkeling as where you can still see the bottom is pretty silly. In the Barrier reef it's quite common to be able to see the bottom in 25-35m of depth, that’s 82-114ft !
I didn't make up the numbers of deaths in QLD, they were determined by police, autopsy etc to be victims of SWB. By definition as soon as someone leaves the surface, they are holding their breath, to me that's freediving. Could be 10m or 105m. Even in 10m if you are chasing a fish or taking pictures and spend too long underwater you are still risking blackout. Probably my scariest freediving moment ever was getting my hand trapped whilst trying to retrieve an anchor in only 14m of water. Someone can also get a fin stuck, or bang their head underwater. I've even heard of a case where someone nearly drowned because they were held underwater by on octopus. People can blackout and die on the surface if they hold their breath long enough, which has happened with someone doing a static unsupervised. It doesn’t need to be deep for someone to blackout.
Here in Spain the only published freediving death I've heard of in the last two years was a guy in my area freediving, on a shallow site at around 11 meters. There are some narrow tunnels and the authorites think he may have banged his head or simply blacked out. There were no clues. I'ts a peaceful place with no currents.

Then there was a guy who was shot by his buddy in the head as he was coming up from a dive in murky waters. The buddy thought he was a fish. I don't know if he survived or not. If Shane reads this he might know.

Wal, I think what Eric ment was that it's a way to rule out the guy being a snorkeler, not the other way around.
Not many people will just snorkel where they can't see the bottom/anything. Yet for a freediver it's not a rare occurrence to not see the bottom.
Excluding that, there are quite alot of snorkelers in the blue hole in Dahab.
Thanks for the info so far guys! if you have any links to information on the deaths you've spoken of, memorials to individuals, newspaper posts, other forum threads, that would be great.
As for locations that I am hunting down, currently, anywhere worldwide is appropriate.
While your at the link above you might want to join that list. It's populated mostly by spearfisherman who will have a good deal of info on spearfishing deaths (including the most recent one last week).
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