Freitag, 6. Juli 2012

How a torch saved my life and the lifes of seven other divers...

You might have heard these jokes about divers taking torches on every dive, even during the day, and how silly that is. Well, for me it was never silly to bring a torch during daylight as you can point out small fish much easier but, to be honest, I never thought this small torch would ever be so important and survival.

But let me start from the beginning.
A group of 12 divers left Tulamben/Bali early in the morning, all excited about the three wonderful dives we were about to do that day on our Nusa Penida Daytrip.
There was one Instructor and me, the Divemaster in charge, on the boat.  Our fist dive was at Manta Point, where we saw about eleven or twelve Manta Rays! Even though the water was freezing cold (about 22 degrees) we had the dive of our lives seeing these wonderful, massive but graceful creatures. I’ve never seen anything like that and we all ended our dive with huge smiles on our faces.
The second dive of the day we did at Crystal Bay, where the waters are indeed crystal clear and the currents can get quite dangerous but one has a really good chance seeing a Mola Mola (also called Moonfish) which we didn’t. We had an amazing dive anyway with moderate currents and loads of pretty fish and corals.

After lunch, which we had on the boat, and a nap it was time for the last dive – a drift dive.
It was my first time ever doing a drift dive and I was very excited about it.
We had good conditions for the dive and our Instructor told us the water would be much warmer than during our first dives which made some of the divers decide to wear only a short wetsuit instead of a long and a short one.  The water temperature was indeed 27 degrees and the drift dive was like being on a highway. One could see on the faces of the divers how much fun everyone had. Most of them were laughing so much that they were running out of air quickly and I ended the dive with seven divers after 35 minutes doing the safety stop. I could still see all the corals underneath me and I sent the Surface Marker Buoy up for the boat to see us and pick us up.
But when we emerged there was no boat in sight. I was waving with the buoy, waiting for our boat to see us and pick us up but there was no boat. The surface was already quite rocky with waves about half a meter high and it was hard to see anything. We started building a line, holding hands, trying to kick towards the shore (which was still in sight). After about 30 Minutes we could hear a boats engine but it was far away and didn’t look at all like our boat. We decided to dump our weight belts and started whistling and shouting, waving our hands and the buoy. Suddenly a boat showed up and we were trying to get the crews attention but it seemed they didn’t see us. That was the last boat we saw for hours. Half an hour before sunset I decided to dump the tanks as it would be too dangerous to dump them at night and it made it much easier floating and kicking.
Hours later we were still holding on to each other kicking towards the island, twenty hard kicks and twenty slow kicks, trying to fight the current which was building up. We saw a beautiful sunset and an amazing moonrise and a lot of fluorescence plankton and jellyfish (which stung a little bit but nobody got seriously hurt).
As soon as it got dark I started to sign SOS with my torch which I luckily had with me (as I had every dive ever since I got it) every few minutes.
Eventually we were out of energy from kicking all the time fighting the current, but it kept as warm so we tried to keep kicking our legs to fight the cold, still holding on to each other. I think I’ve never felt so cold in my life. After being in the water for almost 5 hours we gave up fighting the current. We just held each other, kicking our legs gently, asking everyone every few minutes if they were still awake. About two hours later we saw the lights of a boat and we started shouting and whistling and I gave light signs like crazy with my torch. Suddenly the waves and current were building up again twisting and twirling us around, waves breaking over our heads, which made it hard for us to see the boat. Half an hour we were wondering whether the crew on the boat saw us or not but we didn’t give up, shouting our souls out, shining SOS in the boats direction.
I felt like dreaming when I realized that the crew saw us giving light signs back to us.
As soon as the boat was close enough they threw a rope where we could hold on to and they pulled us up on board. I was just falling on the floor, totally exhausted, shivering like crazy but I have never been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. These 10 fishermen will always be my heroes!
They helped us out of our BCD’s, provided blankets, towels, sarongs, jackets and whatever they could find to keep us warm, hot tea with lots of sugar, noodles and biscuits.
It took another 4 hours until we reached the harbor close to Sanur/Bali, where we were picked up by our instructor.

The fishingcrew told us that they couldn’t see us, they couldn’t hear us but they saw the lights of my torch.This is why a small torch saved the lives of 8 people.

I am so happy that nobody got lost or injured. After 8 ½ hours in the water we only got a few blisters and some jellyfish stings. I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened.
For now, I’m only happy we survived this accident. 


  1. Crazy. What was the excuse of the instructor? And why he did not alarm the coastguard?

  2. Being a DM for a group of 7 for a drift dive at Nusa Penida / Nusa lembongan close to full moon and close to low tide when you have no experience in drift dives does not seem like a good idea to me.
    When we go there (or to Padangbay) we always take local DM from a local dive shop of Lembongan as those places can be dangerous. BTW local dive shops only dive if the tide is favourable, to the frustration of some tourists...

  3. Your story is crazy & the way the dive shop you're working for manages its business is insane !

    As noted previously, a local & experienced guide is needed around Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida. Every dive center diving the area knows it. In addition, it's impossible to manage 7 divers during drift dives even for the most experienced guides. Leading 7 divers by yourself in such an area is breakneck ! It's not just to spend more money that serious dive centers hire experienced guides & make smaller groups. It's basic safety !

    The way you tell this story, I feel that you still do not understand what happened ! It's not a problem of boat captain not finding you but a lack of experience & a total lack of professionalism from the DC you're working for ! And you may be ready to lead again in the area.

    Beware : next time, you may not be as super lucky !

    1. In addition, my small pieces of advice before getting back to lead in the area :

      - you need some proper training to manage potential strong & unpredictable currents.

      - you need to dive here, in various conditions, with an experienced guide before even thinking of guiding divers. If you're a fast learner, may be you will be able to guide fun divers quickly, otherwise keep diving there with an experienced guide. Knowing the dive sites, understanding the currents, knowing what to do in various conditions is the key for safe diving in the area.

      - just refuse to lead more than 4 fun divers in any drift dive. It's not possible ! Just don't lead divers here or find another dive center to work for if the one you're working for wants you to lead more than 4 divers here.

  4. Accident? Sounds like poor preparation and planning to me. Glad you're still around to talk about it. Agree with the person above who said you don't seem like you understand the severity of what happened.

  5. you don't have any idea how lucky you are and you have no idea how stupid the dive shop was. there is no rescue service in Bali. plenty of people have vanished just where you were. Bali is full of cut rate dive operations so be careful

  6. Hi alina
    Here are Sebastien & Emilie (diving with you two weeks ago in tulamben).
    We were really scaried while reading your article. Very happy that you are safe and congratulations for having the right survival behaviour. Please don't go there again in the same conditions!

    We wish you Nice dives in the future Take care!

    We wish you Nice dives in the future, take care!

  7. To the divemaster:

    - Guiding a group of 7 divers on any of the sites around Nusa Penida/Lembongan is extremely dangerous. Any reputable operator on Lembongan operates with a maximum ratio of 1 guide : 4 divers

    - There are 9 dive operators and several speed boat companies operating on Nusa Lembongan, all have an emergency assistance plan in place to begin search. Why did your boat fail to notify or ask for assistance? You should have (a) either gone diving with an operator that knows the area and has an emergency assistance plan in place; or (b) looked into this before you decided to take the lives of other people into your hands by leading them diving to an area you did not know!!

    - Diving Mangrove reef at low tide = stupid... the reef makes a corner after which, if you choose to continue diving the current will push you away from shore. Most experienced guides who take divers to this site know this and read the conditions of the site accordingly. Furthermore, diving Mangrove Reef in late afternoon is risky because the boat captain needed to look directly into sun to find surfacing divers.

    No doubt it was a very scary experience for you, and if you continue working as a divemaster please learn from this chain of poor decision making. As a divemaster you will often have customers putting pressure on you to dive a particular site. However, it is your responsibility to assess the conditions and PLAN YOUR DIVE. Events such as this by certain individuals and operators which are caused by complete disregard of standards and safety create concern for the dive industry as a whole. Let this be a warning to all your readers to pick and chose your operators wisely and safety should always take precidence over price!

    The concerned owner of a Lembongan-based dive centre who was NOT notified of missing divers.

  8. I received a call in the late evening informing me that the search had been called off for the day, so at least there was a search called.
    To be honest the Instructor was mostly at fault, but the both of you are dive professionals. Maybe you shouldn't be....
    try looking at it this way; not so much that your little torch saved all of your lives, but that your irresponsible behaviour nearly killed them all.

  9. Ps to those saying "its actually a really safe place to dive" is like saying that ice-climbing is safe if you know what you are doing. Here the risks are high, and nature particularly unforgiving of mistakes. Even if the guide does the right thing, the down-currents can (and have) sweep divers away, who don't listen to their guide and swim even 15m out into the blue. Its far enough here, or at crystal bay; and some never come back.

  10. btw the MolaMola is only called a moonfish in German and French; in english its the Oceanic (common) sunfish.

  11. Alina, GO far away from DIVE CONCEPT. It's just a cheaper French Dive Operator. Talk with others people and you'll will see.
    You pay a lot and the accomodation is so bad.
    Take care

  12. Hey Alina! Is it possible to share this post on our webpage ? I read this 6 month ago, and I would love to share it! Creds will be given you and your blog, of course....

  13. Nice and informative blog!
    Thanks for sharing this content.
    Fun diving in bali