BAXTER COUNTY, Ar – Local scuba diving experts are shedding light on a deadly accident in Baxter County Arkansas. It happened over the weekend on Norfork Lake while a group of divers were training.
The Baxter County Sheriff’s Department says the group was around 100-feet below the surface when one of the trainees, Brian Malone of Jonesboro, Arkansas, became confused and started swimming toward the bottom.
His instructor, Todd Reed, also of Jonesboro, went after Malone and both men reached a depth of 177-feet.
Malone died and Reed had to be placed in a decompression chamber.
“You have to anticipate every possible hang up that a student may have,” says White River Adventures Company dive instructor, Louis Chapman, “and everyone is a little bit different.”
Chapman says without knowing all of the details surrounding the incident in Baxter County, it is difficult to say exactly what happened.
However, he believes Malone suffered from something called nitrogen narcosis.
“The more pressure you’re under, the deeper you go, the more reaction your body may have to high levels of nitrogen in your blood,” he says. “Narcosis is very similar to intoxication.”
Chapman says it isn’t uncommon for recreational training classes to reach depths of 130-feet, but he says past that point normal air becomes toxic.
Divers going past 130-feet have to plan ahead for the effects of nitrogen, using different gas mixtures in their air tanks.
“[If they don’t] divers can get decompression sickness, as the instructor did,” says Wester Taney County Fire Protection District search and rescue diver, Greg Orthel.
Orthel says divers also have to come up slowly from extreme depths, making “safety stops” along the way.
“Our computers, as we go down or come up act as a guide,” says Orthel, “and will tell us we’re going up to fast or going down to fast.”
“As we’re going up it will guide us and say, ‘you need to stop here for a little while,’ it will count down with a timer,” he says. “What that is doing is releasing those gases off of us.”
Divers that don’t take these precautions can suffer multiple complications such as developing gas bubbles in their blood, also known as “the bends.”
It’s for that reason, Orthel says, Reed put his own life at risk by diving to 177-feet to rescue Malone.
” He’s not watching his gage at that time,” he says. “For him to go do that, and actually come up, it is miraculous.”
Reed was released from the hospital on Sunday. The investigation into Malone’s death is ongoing.