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Seattle rescue diver: ‘It was like being in a washing machine’



Three weeks after a boat flipped near Alki Point off Seattle,  divers are only just beginning to share the details of a harrowing underwater rescue.

For at least one of the three divers with the Seattle Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team, it was the first time he responded to a capsized boat. For all them it was a high-risk operation.

On November 15, an emergency call came in that a boat had capsized and one person missing. Seattle Fire’s Technical Rescue Team quickly launched its boat from a fire station near Coleman Dock and headed to Alki.

Seattle Firefighter and diver Mike Todd remembers the intense wind that kicked up white caps and the frigid air. Todd suited up on the boat ride and started thinking about the missing man.

“When you’re going out there, you say a little prayer for the person who might be involved,” he said.

On that day, it wasn’t a bad idea for firefighters to say a prayer for themselves.

“It was really a high risk operation,” said Lt. Frank Brennan.

The lieutenant would manage the rescue operation topside while working with the Coast Guard. The Guard initially responded to the call and had already plucked three men from the water by the time Seattle Fire’s Technical team arrived.

The men’s boat somehow flipped upside down. Brennan worked with the Coast Guard to keep his divers safe. The choppy waters made it a challenge to keep the Fire Department’s rescue boat positioned with the prop away from those divers.

Firefighter divers encountered a 4,000-pound boat that had turtled. It was bobbing in surging seas with debris from the diving boat everywhere.

“The boat being on surface and having the boat moving around is what made it so dangerous,” said firefighter/diver Colin McElroy. “It would have been easier if the boat was completely submerged.”

Todd put it even more succinctly:

“It was like being in a washing machine,” he said.

The wind was relentless and the air was biting and brisk. The waves topped out at four feet.

Firefighters McElroy and Todd described what looked like an obstacle course.

“It’s not just the waves, but all the debris in the water. It’s the ropes, air lines,straps, everything you would find in a commercial vessel is floating along the water there. It was definitely a different environment than we are used to training in all the time,” McElroy said.

“You just didn’t know what would came in your frame in the next moment. It was like being in a crowded group of people and you didn’t know what was going to come at you next,” Todd said.

Experience diver Anthony Collins was the missing man, and the last place he was seen was in the wheelhouse, which was now upside down and taking on water. Since the hull was still on the water’s surface, rescue divers hoped there might be an air pocket in the wheelhouse.

“If he was still alive he may be trying to survive in that air pocket,” said Lt. Brennan.

The team agreed that the wheelhouse would be a deathtrap for their divers. Their only safe option was to reach through the wheelhouse door and hope Collins would be within reach.

An already risky rescue attempt just got riskier when they learned their underwater radios didn’t work and their only way to communicate was gone. At that point training kicked in and McElroy and Todd headed for the boat’s wheelhouse.

“You could see the patient in there right away,” said McElroy.

They where right, and there was an air pocket in the wheelhouse. Anthony Collins’ head was above the water line and he appeared unresponsive.

“The biggest hazard was the boat coming up and down on us,” said Todd, who remembered the boat rising and crashing down four feet with every wave.

“Anyone of them could have been hit on the head or entangled,” said Lt. Brennan.

Firefighter McElroy couldn’t reach Anthony. Measured but hurried, he inched into the doorway closer to that death trap with every reach.

“Colin was able to get in there — he did a great job. It wasn’t just reaching in and grabbing him, he had to keep trying and keep trying and at the same time the boat is moving up and down and the configuration of his dive equipment he could have easily been stuck in that doorway as well. So he did a great job of staying with the scene and getting a hold of Anthony,” Todd said.

Anthony Collins was unconscious and unresponsive. The Coast Guard air lifted him to Harborview Medical Center.

“Unfortunately for the family, it didn’t go 100 percent how we wanted it to,” said McElroy.

Although Collins had been underwater for nearly an hour, the firefighters were hopeful the air pocket may have saved him.

“We take the risk so the victim will survive and it didn’t happen in this case,” said Lt. Brennan, who insisted it’s a risk Seattle Fire will take every time.

For McElroy it was also a first.

“I’ve never been on a capsized vessel call,” he said. “It’s usually a kayaker in trouble.”

For Mike Todd, the day ended as it began with a prayer.

“You pray for Anthony Collin’s family,” he said.

Seattle Fire’s Technical Rescue Team operates 24/7 and is made up of 27 men and one woman. Seattle Fire says the Coast Guard’s “excellent work” and initial response was vital.



Dive Training Blogs

How Scuba Diving can help you overcome physical and mental challenges




This International Disabilities Day (December 3 2022) PADI is reminding the world of the healing aspects that the ocean (or any body of water) can provide us all and how important of a modality it is for helping those with physical or mental challenges improve their wellbeing. From simply being within close proximity of it or diving beneath the salty surface for an underwater adventure, the ocean is also healing.

Regardless of your age, ability, or even limitations, the ocean can benefit us physically, emotionally and even spiritually. This is why PADI is on a mission to make those benefits accessible to all, launching their Adaptive Techniques Diving Course in the hopes that all of humanity can experience the full transformational power the ocean offers us.

While many are more familiar with traditional therapies, whether it be diving, mermaiding or freediving, people around the world have been forever changed by connecting with the water – conquering mental or physical perceived limitations.

There are an estimated one billion people on the planet that have a physical and/or mental disability – imagine the power that diving and immersion can have on this population if awarded the opportunity.

PADI’s history is replete with people whose lives have been transformed by connecting with the water because they were able to experience and explore the underwater world through PADI programme and certifications. PADI’s approach to diver education has always been inclusive and is a key pillar to their Pillars of Change.  Everyone who meets prerequisites is welcome to join the global community of 29 million+ certified PADI Divers.

PADI created two courses that focus on increasing awareness of varying diver abilities and exploring adaptive teaching techniques to apply when training and diving with physically and mentally challenged divers: the PADI Adaptive Techniques Specialty and the PADI Adaptive Support Diver course.

These courses further expand Instructors’ and Divemasters’ abilities to be student-centered and prescriptive in approach when adapting techniques to meet diver needs. Here are the various ways PADI helps those with disabilities overcome all their challenges by connecting them with water:

1. Improved Muscular Movement, Light Sensitivity and PTSD Symptoms

A 2011 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found, “veterans with spinal cord injuries who underwent a four-day scuba diving certification saw significant improvement in muscle movement, increased sensitivity to light touch and pinprick on the legs, and large reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.”

2. Lifts Your Mental State and Mood

Did you know that the ocean air can literally lift your mood?  “The sound and vision of the ocean lift our mood,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Arghya Sarkhel. “The touch of sand and the smell of a seaside breeze leads to relaxation. On a biological level, this audio-visual stimulus incites our parasympathetic nervous system—that activates ‘rest and digest’, as opposed to ‘fight or flight’,” he says. Now scientists are quantifying the positive cognitive and physical effects of water and the improved sense of physical health and well-being.

Equally diving into the therapeutic benefits that diving can provide is Jeffery Puncher, Director for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottowa. He is currently developing a virtual reality diving programme to help his patients find relief from stress and anxiety–using calming scenes of coral reefs and the swaying seas along with the soothing sounds of bubbles beneath the surface. This programme is currently being used with medical students, residents and faculty, with the goal of growing it to be adopted nationwide to help also support the psychological health of first responders.

3. Provides You with a Sense of Peace

Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, has done extensive research on the ocean’s unique ability to induce a state of what he calls the “Blue Mind” in human beings. Blue Mind is a mildly meditative state characterized by calmness, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. Nichols states that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and heal us on a deep level.

4. Enhanced Physical Movement

Being in the water allows you the opportunity to experience a feeling of flexibility and freedom that those with disabilities would rarely get to experience on land. This is because on land the muscles become restricted by the force of gravity. But in the water, that sensation drifts away and is replaced by the freedom to feel the freedom of movement.

5. Confidence and Control

The freedom of enhanced physical movement in the water also provides a sense of increased confidence and control. They can explore beneath the surface just like able-bodied people can do, which equally increases their own self-belief and feelings of empowerment.

6. Anxiety Relief

Those with disabilities who equally suffer from anxiety can find tranquility beneath the surface. By having to focus on your breath and being in the moment, all of the mental stress that can come with having a disability is no longer top of mind and instead allows for an escape in which you can truly enjoy the moment.

Find out more at

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Gear News

Scubapro Winter Promo: free gift!



Buy an EVERDRY 4.0 dry suit and receive a K2 Light undersuit set for free!

Divers can look forward to the cold-water season this winter, as SCUBAPRO is offering a free K2 Light undersuit set (top & pants) to all scuba enthusiasts who purchase an EVERDRY 4.0 neoprene dry suit by 15 January.

The EVERDRY 4.0 is a high-quality dry suit made from compressed neoprene. It combines the slim fit, comfort and flexibility of a wetsuit with the warmth and tightness of a dry suit.

The K2 Light Set is the ideal undergarment for neoprene dry suits. Its light grid plush material reliably holds the warmth where you need it in cold waters. The Everdry’s elastic wrist loops and heel strap suspenders keep sleeves and pants in place under the suit. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.

A combination that turns your cold-water lake into a hotspot!

For more information visit the Scubapro website.

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Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies. Price NOW from just £1195 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including: Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage 7 nights in shared cabin 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees Free Nitrox Booking deadline: Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price. Alternative departure airports available at a supplement. Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email More Less

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