Diver dies in Orkney after medical emergency at sea

A 58-year-old man has lost his life and another diver has been hospitalized after a diving incident at Houton Pier in Orkney, Scotland.

What happened at Houton Pier?

According to Police Scotland, the two divers were brought by boat to Houton Pier around 10.35am on Friday, October 27, 2023, after a “medical emergency” at sea. Emergency services attended the scene and one man was taken to hospital for treatment. The other diver, aged 58, was pronounced dead at the scene and his next of kin are aware.

The death is being treated as unexplained and enquiries are ongoing. A report will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal in due course.

How dangerous is diving in Orkney?

Orkney is a popular destination for divers who want to explore the rich marine life and the historic wrecks of the Scapa Flow, a natural harbour that was used as a naval base during both world wars. However, diving in Orkney can also pose significant risks due to the cold water, strong currents, poor visibility and depth of some sites.

diver medical emergency orkney

According to the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), there were 11 diving fatalities in the UK in 2022, of which four occurred in Scotland. The BSAC advises divers to follow safety guidelines, such as checking their equipment, planning their dives, staying within their limits and seeking medical advice if they have any health issues.

What are the symptoms of diving-related illnesses?

Diving can cause various medical problems, such as decompression sickness (DCS), also known as “the bends”, which occurs when bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the blood and tissues due to rapid changes in pressure. DCS can cause symptoms such as joint pain, skin rash, numbness, paralysis, confusion and even death.

Another common diving-related illness is pulmonary barotrauma (PBT), which happens when air trapped in the lungs expands and ruptures the lung tissue or blood vessels due to pressure changes. PBT can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing blood and air embolism, which is when air bubbles enter the bloodstream and block blood flow to vital organs.

Divers who experience any signs of diving-related illnesses should seek immediate medical attention and oxygen therapy. They should also avoid flying or ascending to high altitudes until they are cleared by a doctor.

How can divers prevent diving-related illnesses?

Divers can reduce the risk of diving-related illnesses by following some preventive measures, such as:

  • Choosing dive sites that match their level of experience and training
  • Using appropriate equipment and checking it before each dive
  • Following dive tables or computers to plan their dive profiles and avoid exceeding their maximum depth and time limits
  • Ascending slowly and making safety stops to allow gas exchange and elimination
  • Staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol, drugs and smoking before and after diving
  • Waiting at least 24 hours before flying or ascending to high altitudes after diving

What will happen next?

The police are investigating the circumstances of the diving incident at Houton Pier and will provide more details once they have completed their enquiries. The identity of the deceased diver has not been released yet. The condition of the other diver who was taken to hospital is unknown.

The diving community in Orkney and beyond has expressed its condolences and support to the families and friends of the divers involved. The incident has also raised awareness of the potential dangers of diving and the importance of following safety precautions.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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