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Tragedy at the U.S. Nationals Spearfishing Tourney

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New Member
Aug 19, 2002
I just heard that a well know pole diver whose first name was Gene, (didn’t get his last name) was lost at the Nationals in Hawaii this weekend.
38 is very young. My condolences to his family.
Erik Y.
This is such terrible news! “He would know his own limits” line of thinking just isn't good enough. Not that I am not guilty of it too from time to time.

I was in a tournament this weekend in the Gulf of Mexico and we dove oil rigs is 150 to 350 feet of water. My buddy and I dove together most of the time. On one of his dives he hit the end of his 85’ float line trying to get close enough to an AJ to take a shot. He turn and came up about 20 feet when he saw a cobia following him so he turned back swam toward it and shot it. It wasn’t a kill shot and his breakaway didn’t release easy so he struggled hard for about 10 seconds trying to keep the fish from pulling him down while he tried to get the breakaway to come lose (the reason I would rather tie the float line to the gun and drop the whole thing when diving deep).

He gave me the “I need help signal” on the way up. I could see his eyes where glazed. At the surface he was close to a samba. I held him from behind for about 20 seconds and asked him to say something so I knew he was conscious.

I made one deep dive alone when he was taking a break on the boat that day and I received some blurred vision toward the surface. I was really mad I did that. It was foolish and also tired me out so when he was rested and ready to dive – I needed rest.

I know it’s not common in spearfishing tournaments to dive this way, but it’s the way we choose too. We are also more productive with several fish species such as cobia and AJ, because they are more likely to come check us out and one of is usually ready when they do.
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This is such sad news to hear...

It also makes me wonder where the hell his dive buddy was in this process??? :head

As a freedive instructor, I have always found it frustrating when freedive game gatherers say they purposely go off in different directions because of the hunt - no fish is worth losing your life over...

I'll get off my soap box now..
Sad news.

Concerning the dive buddy, I was under the impression that most divers at spearfishing tournaments dove alone, without buddies.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
Eric is right, there is no buddy system in out Nationals - something that Bill Ernst mentioned during the awards banquet that we should look at in regards to format.

Gene was one of the nicest & most humble spearos I have ever the pleasure of meeting & it is so hard to believe that he is gone. Part of a lot of us don't want to believe it. This couldn't have happened to a better person - a truely humble individual who embodied all that was good about the sport. To a lot of of people(myself included), Gene was a role model - someone you could be proud to look up to.

I believe that is the case. The U.S. Nationals are made up of 3 man teams and I believe everyone goes their own way, except if it’s in Florida and they are diving out of a boat. But even then they still aren’t buddy diving, just staying close enough to the boat to deliver their fish there.

The organizer of the tourney I was in said he would be sending out feedback forms and wanted to hear suggestions. I think I will suggest a rule making buddy diving mandatory. It would be one of those unenforceable rules, but its bound to increase the buddy diving some.
Terrible news!!

My deepest condolences to his family and the whole HI spearing community.

I'm 100% sure that I can say this allso on behalf of whole Finnish spearo community.

Having read so much stuff in HSD I almost feel that I know this guy....

>>The organizer of the tourney I was in said he would be sending out feedback forms and wanted to hear suggestions. I think I will suggest a rule making buddy diving mandatory. It would be one of those unenforceable rules, but its bound to increase the buddy diving some.

Let's not let the emotion of the moment rule. Let men do their thing and lose the hand wringing. Gene was obviously a good diver, quite brave and competitive . Let's remember the good stuff and drop the cliches about 'tragedy' and 'senseless loss of life' or whatever Oprah lovers may have in mind. We need to go on. What we don't need is a group of suits telling us that we need more rules to 'protect us'. They need to remember where they came from.
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peskydor, i am appalled that you could utter such filth in a time like this. these current rules aim to protect divers, not from nature, but from our own egos. everyone hates rules, god knows i do, but imagine the mayhem that we would live in if they didn't exist. i am 19 years old, being as experienced and old as you have profesed to be in previous posts, i think you should re-evaluate your stand on this issue.

my condolences to his family.

yes, i think that the buddy system should be enforced, and anyone cought not abiding to the rule should be sumarily discualified and even banned from the next tournament or event, o should have to pay a fine of some sort. also if it could be co-ordinated with Fish & Game, it would make enforcement easier and give the sport a better reputation
what the hell?

Originally posted by peskydor

Let's not let the emotion of the moment rule. Let men do their thing and lose the hand wringing. Gene was obviously a good diver, quite brave and competitive . Let's remember the good stuff and drop the cliches about 'tragedy' and 'senseless loss of life' or whatever Oprah lovers may have in mind. We need to go on. What we don't need is a group of suits telling us that we need more rules to 'protect us'. They need to remember where they came from.

Were you there? Did you ever have the pleasure of knowing Gene? I didn't think so. I was there as a competitor. He has never been anything but unselfishly supportive to me every time I talked to him as long as I've known him.

If you think "tragedy" & "senseless loss of life" are cliches that should be dropped, then I guess in your eyes I'm one of those "Oprah lovers." I don't apologize for having compassion for my fellow diving brother & all the lives that have been affected. Gene will always be one of my heros for all of his accomplishments as well as the humbleness he portrayed.

I agree we have to move on, but to do so without taking this lesson learned & how it affects all of us would be a great disservice & disrespectful of this amazing man's life.

I just realized I didn't sign the negative karma I sent your way. If I could send more, I would. :martial

BTW, the "suits" you reference are fellow divers who care about the safety of each other & our close-knit community. It appears for someone that boasts such depth of experience, it is you that should remember where you came from.
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This is the 5th death in a Nationals during the 50 year span of these competitions. So that means in 10% of the Nationals, somebody dies.

No clichés here, Gene was truly a great person and a great diver and will be greatly missed by many, many people.

During the weigh-in (after the tragedy had occurred) I was talking with another awesome Hawaiian diver who has young children such as myself and Gene do. And I was telling him that I had no intention of ever allowing my child to participate in such a dangerous sport. His response to me was, "the sea gives us life but sometimes it also takes it away". I took this to mean that his children will be part of the sea if they so choose and that whatever happens to them is just what will happen. But no matter what happens they will have had a better life by living as part of mother ocean than they would by not. This is the same sentiment that was passed along to us at the banquet as having come from Gene’s family and it helped to make me feel a little better about the whole thing.

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When I've lost people, I let the emotions flow, celebrate the life the person had, and make no abrupt changes in my own life.
Bereaved friends and family are usually advised to not make any major changes in their lives for a year, to let the grieving start and then settle a bit.
I think peskydor is trying to focus on the positive aspects of the man's life as opposed to using our emotions to drive us towards a point where we can't dive anymore via regulations and controls.
Maybe a little ill-timed and insensitive, but I don't see any ill will.
I dive alone and probably always will. Many of you are in the same boat. I expect all of my friends and family to grieve my death some day(however that occurs), but don't start making rules for other men to follow because of my choices. I know Don is suggesting soft rules for a voluntary competition, but many fear regulations when it comes to sports that truly set us free, if only for a few hours at a time.
Respectfully and warmly,
Erik Young
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Thank you Erik, I understand your points & appreciate your insights. I didn't apreciate peskydor's attitude that has permeated some of his posts & shows up in poor form here. I know he was addressing donmoore's comments, but to bring up Oprah - now that's just insulting ;)

"I agree we have to move on, but to do so without taking this lesson learned & how it affects all of us would be a great disservice & disrespectful of this amazing man's life." I agree we shouldn't make drastic changes - for example someone on the hawaiiskindiver boards said he'll never go diving again. That would be last thing Gene would want. What I meant by my above statement is that each of us should take a little reflection from this & apply it to our own life, not go crazy trying to implement changes

My own 2 personal thoughts coming from conversations with friends & internal reflection:
- 1) The competition is always 2nd. Many people push it too hard & think about getting that extra fish, not letting down teammates, saving face, etc. All this can severely alter one's mental state to the point of throwing caution to the wind.
- 2) Even though blackouts come without warning, everyone has had times when they know they've pushed it too far. While coming up, I always hear stories of people saying they thought they weren't going to make it. In almost none of these stories did they think to release their weight belt - a simple act that would have huge benefits.

I still plan to dive the same as always. Gene will still be one of my dive heros. We will all move on - and learn from this.
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I'm not a spearo, but here's a suggestion that may be practical. I apologize for posting something so unemotional in such a charged thread. I'm not a cold hearted engineer -- I just think that the mortality rate that Scott mentiones is horrifying and it seems to demand some kind of solution. I'm all for being free-spirited and those arguments have some appeal, but think of the price that this fellow's family is paying. Diving alone is one thing, but diving alone in a competitive atmosphere invites trouble and the results bear this out.

At any rate, here's my suggestion. Woudl it be possible to have the regs require guys to dive in pairs? The pair with the most fish wins, provided they adhered to good "buddy" practices. This requirement could be enforced using dive-loggers. A rugged, cheap logger like the Sensus Pro would be ideal. The loggers could be sealed in a tamper evident package that let in water but disallow a computer connection, so that tampering is impossible. There could be criteria set for profiles (e.g. two buddies down at the same time for 2:00 would be a definite violation). Exact criteria would be for experts in the sport to formulate. It shoudl be relatively easy to make a computer program that parses the logs and flags any potential violations.

Naturally, the buddy criteria would be open to some interpretation. In order to allow for practical lattitude in judgement, "borderline" pair profiles could be juried by participants. If folks turn in sealed loggers, this judging would be double-blind and therefore totally impartial.

Who's the chickenshit w/ 1 karma square that neg'd me for this? Even if you don't have the courage to sign it, at least explain yourself. Scott's post confirmed that it wasn't a completely insane idea.

10x for the karma from those who understood the intent of the message. Glad to see that the post seemsed to stimulate some conversation on improving safety.
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Gene was definitely a hero of mine. When a fellow diver called me to tell me that he died I was shocked and didn't want to believe it. To say that this isn't a tragedy is ridiculous. He was not only one of the best spearfishermen in the world but he was also a mentor, a husband, and a father. I think people have a right to show some emotion and not just pretend to be hard asses.


Your thinking is along the lines of some possibilities that were voiced at the banquet by the current USOA National Freedive Director Bill Ernst (having himself lost a teammate at a past Nationals). Here's Bill's idea, two 2 man teams that would make up a single 4 man team. Each pair within the 4 man team would be allowed to carry only one gun (hence no need for a datalogger as only one person can dive at a time since there is only one gun between them). He told us this sort of configuration is currently being utilized in several countries where loss to SWB during tournaments was extremely high (I think I remember New Caledonia being one of the Countries mentioned). The reasoning behind the old system (3 man team) in the USA was because this used to be the way divers qualified for a slot in the World Championships (as a team). But that has since gone by the wayside and now teams qualify for the Worlds as individuals.

One point people should understand from this tragedy is that SWB can (and does) happen to anybody!!!!!!!!! From the most experienced divers to the most novice. I lost a good friend and dive partner of mine in a local tournament here in West Palm Beach a few years back and since then I’ve saved partners of mine lives 3 times and have witnessed several other divers get saved in my presence by other guys. If you regularly dive deep (whether you’re a great diver or not), sooner or later it’s going to happen to you (more than likely it will be from a fish and probably during a tournament). On the USA National level there are very few (if any) of the upper echelon divers who have not blacked out at one time or another. My advice to everybody who reads this (advanced and novice alike) is to plan on it happening to you someday rather than making the mistake of thinking to yourself “oh, it will never happen to me”. Dive safe and be smart so that when it does happen you are prepared and somebody is there to save your life! If you must dive alone, stay shallow and/or keep your dives short. This by no means guarantees you won’t black out but it at least lowers your odds. Please remember, the surest way you have of surviving a blackout is to dive with a buddy and this does not mean just in the same ocean but within arms reach on every return to the surface, especially if he has been down an extra long time or you’ve heard his gun go off.

A personal sad note to me is that immediately prior to this year’s competition I shook the hand of every diver I felt close to (this included Gene) and wished them good luck and told them to “dive safe”.

Incredible words Scott! That is a must read post for every spearfisher person!
To add to the idea of one gun per 2-person team, which is an awesome idea, (simple and effective), would be to require the use of a float and float line. Require that the partner without the gun - have hold of the float. Then the non-diving partner would always have to be close to diving partner, because the diving partner would not have enough float-line to descend with if not.

When the diver surfaced there would be an exchange of gun for float with the partner.
Just an idea,
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