Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrong

ScottCassell 5168 2 203x300 Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrong

Scott Cassell

My Girlfriend started SCUBA school in September 2012, largely due her newly developed interest in the undersea world after coming with me, Scott Cassell, on several expeditions. My girlfriend asked me to accompany her to her pool training, and after arriving, I met her two bay-area SCUBA instructors during the first training session at their dive shop. During our initial meeting, the instructors seemed somewhat distant from me, but verbalized many times that they would openly accept my presence during my girlfriend’s open-water (ocean) training dives. I was excited to be a part of her first dive experience and seeing her earn her certification, and she was both comforted and more confident knowing that I would be present.

Living several hours away, we decided to drive to Monterey the night before the open water training began (Friday, December 14th) so we could get a solid start with the SCUBA class at 7:30am and not be rushed in the morning. We checked in to our hotel and looked forward to the checkout dives the next day.

Story submitted by Scott Cassell, independent contributor.

At 7:15am Saturday, we arrived at the Breakwater and settled in next to the SCUBA Instructors’ three-pointed tent where my girlfriend’s class was staging. We immediately noticed that both instructors were not acting friendly towards us, were stand-off-ish and seemed irritated at us for no apparent reason. My girlfriend and I thought this may have been due to the two instructors being under stress from having to organize such a large class (I think between 11 to 13 students). It also crossed my mind that, contrary to their earlier approvals, perhaps neither instructor wanted me there.

My girlfriend and I decided to finish getting prepared for the first dive, and she politely asked one of the instructors where the weights were for her to use. Answering sharply and sarcastically, he said “use your own.” Lucky for us, I always bring enough for two divers just in case… so we were covered. We later heard that another dive student had to go purchase weights at a nearby dive shop for their dive. Curiously, looking towards the parking lot, we saw that the instructor’s truck had two plastic crates full weights, ready to use…

Weights in hand, my girlfriend and I finished assembling our dive gear. I looked over her set-up, satisfied it was done safely and properly, then left for the restroom. While away, the young Instructor came over to my girlfriend and stared at her SCUBA gear, followed by saying “When was the last time THAT regulator saw water?” Apparently uninterested in her response, he walked away as she offered an answer, and her confidence was clearly shaken. Later, wondering why he would say this, it occurred to me that the regulator she was using was one of mine, and not rented from their dive store.

As soon as I returned from the restroom, my girlfriend asked me to ‘Just be nice so I can get my certification.’ I promised her I would, and decided that I would shadow her from a distance. I hoped the instructors would take her under their wing and that giving distance would relieve whatever stress my presence was apparently bringing to them. After waiting about 30 minutes, it was noticed by us and other students that no directions were issued on what was happening next… or at all for that matter. After 45 minutes, one of the instructors told everyone to gear up and get ready for the first dive. Everyone in the class complied, including my girlfriend and I. All of the students were very eager to get in the water and see explore the Breakwater.

DiveLog 252x300 Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrongA SURPRISING NEW LESSON
After everyone was suited, the instructor returned and told everyone to get into the tent for a class on dive logging. The class was (in my opinion) unnecessary and untimely. Why did they not teach this during the classroom sessions, or at least before everyone had geared up? Being fully suited, my girlfriend began overheating and felt choked during the 45 minute session, which generated more pre-dive stress. No doubt, others in the class felt the same.

After the dive log class, an instructor told everyone to again completely suit up with all of their dive equipment for the first SCUBA dive. Everyone suited up (including my girlfriend and I), and marched down the concrete steps to the beach and then halted. The older instructor announced another training session was to commence. This surprise new class: Beach Entry. He told the class to ‘take a seat on the steps’. My girlfriend nearly fell down when trying to sit in all of her heavy SCUBA gear and landed very heavily on the sand-covered steps next to the beach. Other divers endangered themselves as they walked between the students blocking the entire stair landing. During the class (and unknown to her or I) her primary second stage regulator was ground into the sand behind her SCUBA tank, packing sand in it.

Finally, the order to stand up and enter the water was issued by the older instructor. After giving the order to the group, he turned to me, in front of the entire class, and loudly orders me, in no uncertain terms, that I am to stay away from my girlfriend and stick with one of his Assistant Instructors. I complied. A look over at her showed that she was beginning to experience an ever-increasing amount of stress. I could see and feel how she felt alone and vulnerable.

Following through with my agreement to keep my distance, I held off from making my entry in order to watch her enter the water. With her full wetsuit on (for the first time) she had the new experience of greatly reduced dexterity, and noticeably struggled to put her fins on in the water. The older instructor seemed to become inpatient with her very quickly, and within seconds began shouting at her at close range “FOUR!” “FOUR!” “FOUR!” “MAKE A NUMBER FOUR!!!” After 3 attempts, she was able to get her fins on. She later revealed to me that this experience caused her a tremendous amount of stress and embarrassment in front of her class. By this time, the anticipation and excitement of going on her first dive was replaced with stress and fear, but she was committed to completing her dives and earning her certification as an open water diver. While swimming out, I swam closer to her to give her some assurance. I could clearly see in her face that she was stressed and no that joy was present. Moments later, the older instructor very loudly and sarcastically issued a ‘laughing challenge’ and demanded that I “Stay away from HER!!!”

I swam over to my assigned buddy and stayed close to him, as ordered. The entire SCUBA class swam out towards the older instructor, and once past the surf zone he announced yet another surprise class: ‘Kelp Crawling.’ One at a time, each student was told to swim-crawl over a raft of kelp. My girlfriend and the other students did this exercise well. Just then a beautiful sea otter crawled onto an inner-tube diver float and began to groom. Knowing my girlfriend had never seen this (and seeing that the instructors were focused on the students still performing Kelp Crawls) I called her attention to the Sea Otter. My girlfriend finally smiled again and showed interest not fear. Just then the older instructor shouted “HEY! The class is over here. Stop watching the Sea Otter and look at me!” He then turned his back on the class and went back to watching the students doing the Kelp Crawl exercise. Shortly after this, my ‘buddy’ dove to bottom of the float line to prep for the descent-arrival of students. I told my girlfriend I loved her and followed ‘my buddy’ down the line.

On the surface, my girlfriend was approached by the older instructor and asked if she was ready to descend the line to the bottom. She said ‘yes’ and, as asked, began her descent. She raised her BCD exhaust valve with her left hand and dumped air as instructed until she descended freely and slowly. When her left hand was about two-to-three feet underwater (placing her lungs at a depth of five-or-six feet deep), the older instructor grabbed her left hand and dragged her quickly back to the surface and reinflated her BCD. In a raised voice, he told her she was “doing it wrong” and that she has depressing her AIR-2 purge valve instead of her BCD exhaust valve. She asked to verify which button to push and he showed her… the exact same button she was pushing (hence the fact she descended in the first place). She was told to try again. The exact same thing happened again.

DescendingMonterey1 Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrong

Then again a third time.

After the third interaction, she asked more precisely what she was doing wrong exactly and he responded with “This is what happens when SOMEBODY “HELPS” you!” It was then my girlfriend realized this was probably a form of disciplinary harassment because I was with her. It appeared that my girlfriend was being punished when I could not see it. Her fourth descent was identical to the previous three and the older instructor gives her an ‘OK’ sign that she did it right. She then descended on to the bottom.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: My girlfriend’s lungs were at approximately 5 to 6 feet each time the older instructor grabbed her left hand and ‘yanked’ her to the surface (three times). This is within one foot of the danger zone for potentially lethal A.G.E. of seven feet and is a serious safety risk.)

My girlfriend later explained to me that as she descended to the sea floor, she felt she was not wanted by the instructors, and that she was being punished by them rather than supported and trained. The applied stress and mindset she experienced is obviously not a safe emotional substrate for life-support skills testing in any environment. The water the student were training in was less than ideal, at approximately 57 degrees in temperature with less than 2 meters visibility at a depth of 26-27 fsw. After she arrived at the bottom of the instruction line at 26-27 fsw, I saw her once again. She moved to the training line, and patiently waited for the younger instructor to arrive. So I would not distract her, I stayed behind her, out of her direct sight, at about 1.5 meters. During her hazing at the surface with the older instructor, My Girlfriend’s regulator (which unknown to anyone was laden with sand) became increasingly flooded with the suspended sand. As she arrived on the bottom, the sand began to collect under the exhaust diaphragm, allowing a small amount of water to enter her regulator during inspiration, adding to her already high level stress. She was not taught the (easy) maneuver of how to clear her sandy regulator by flooding and purging.

Even with a leaking regulator, my girlfriend successfully performed the partially flooded mask clearing for the younger instructor. I maintained my position behind her, where I could partially observe the exercises without interfering and without distracting her. During full mask flood & clear exercise, she experienced difficulty when she felt like she could not get a water-free breath. This was due to the combination of her mask being half-full of seawater and the sand in the regulator exhaust valve allowing a spray of seawater with each inhalation. The younger instructor did not offer his regulator to avert her obvious stress of clearing. She began to panic from not getting a breath, so she reached for her octopus. Her instructor grabbed her hand to prevent this, and forced her to retry the exercise with her primary regulator. With no regulator in her mouth, my girlfriend’s stress skyrocketed, and panic was just moments away.

Seeing the problem from a distance, I moved in closer in case I needed to help. Upon my approach, the instructor pushed me away. I thought to myself, “I will allow five more seconds for the instructor to resolve this, then I’m taking over.”

At this time, my girlfriend began to choke and panic, pushed off the bottom and, with her regulator out of her mouth, screamed (blowing huge bubbles) and clawed for the surface. Unexpectedly, her instructor grabbed her left shoulder harness and held her on the bottom while forcefully shoving her primary regulator hard at her mouth. This motion resulted in striking her hard on her right cheek, missing her mouth completely. This shocked her further, and completely out of breath, caused my girlfriend to literally inhale water on her next ‘breath’. I actually saw her suck-inhale water when the tiny suspended debris in the water (around all of us) sharply moved into her mouth. The horrifying reality was she may have just experienced her death blow that instant.

Seeing that the instructor had completely lost control and that my girlfriend had just inhaled a ‘breath’ of water, I quickly moved in and shoved the instructor off my girlfriend, grabbed her, and attempted to ascend. Not making progress towards the surface, I thought I must have had kelp wrapped on my SCUBA tank, so I kicked harder. Then my heel touched something solid and I realized the instructor was holding ME DOWN by grabbing my SCUBA tank! I kicked him off and rushed her to the surface.

The second we broke the surface I heard her gurgle and throw-up. She then made the effort to breathe, but all I heard was a horrible and distinct gurgle upon inhaling. Her first breath was used to beg me in a tiny pathetic but heart-wrenching plea “please save me Scott, “please save me,
“please save me”. Each syllable was joined by horrible deadly gurgles.

The woman I loved was begging for her life.

MontereyBreakwater IMG 5246 Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrong

Incredibly, her Instructor surfaced and shoved me away from her, then began to yell at her to get her attention so he can continue her training!!! I realize he is oblivious to the grave nature of the situation due to inexperience, bad judgment, impatience or just ego and machismo. At this point, my experience in this exact injury (multiple times) over the years tells me that my girlfriend will die within minutes if she does not get advanced medical help… every second is precious to her survival. She was throwing up and coughing up seawater with a horrible and distinct gurgle upon inhaling. Her yells for me to save her were reduced to a feeble whispering gurgle I will never forget. The woman I love, was going to die within a few minutes if she did not get to shore and a hospital NOW. My two seconds of disbelief dissipated and I clicked into action. With my wetsuit-gloved hand, I slapped the Instructor upside the head to get his attention, then as he turned his head to see what happened, I pulled off his mask and punched him (with low-intensity) in the nose twice to shock him off my girlfriend so I could save her life.

To further stop the young Instructor’s ignorant and deadly actions, I yelled at him “You assaulted her you Son of a Bitch and I will shut you down if you touch her!!! … I will shut you down if you do ANYTHING more!” The second he released her, I instantly grabbed her, rolled her on her back, then to her side to let her drain & throw up seawater without letting her face hit the water again. I madly swam and towed her towards shore.

Nearing shore, I yelled at the top of my lungs (several times) for someone to “call 911” and that this was a “Diver Emergency”. Thank God I heard someone yell back “OK!”.  As I pulled her to shore, my emotions surfaced for a second and I told her “PLEASE BREATHE BABY!!! PLEASE DONT DIE BABY! BREATHE BABY, C’MOM BABY BREATHE”. Almost instantly I heard her Instructor rudely and sarcastically say “She is NOT going to die” followed but under-the-breath “dip-shit” .

Not only was he following me against my wishes, and even though he could easily hear her pleas and gurgles with each horribly labored breath, he was still oblivious that she was facing death and continued to taunt me. I ignored him and began to shed her weights. The instructor approached us yet again (I think to help release her gear or weights), but based on his previous actions I simply yelled “NO!” As she and I reached the surf-line, about seven wonderful people jumped in and grabbed her to strip the remaining gear off her, then help take her through the surf to shore. They performed perfectly as I struggled to ditch all of my gear and join her, but found my right arm stuck in my straps. This just doesn’t happen to me… I never get stuck in my own gear but it had to happen right then! A diver happened to move up next to me and I asked him for help. He instantly pulled the strap off my trapped right elbow and my gear flung-off. Within 30-40 seconds I was back at her side.

To my tentative relief, there was already oxygen being administered to my girlfriend by a USCG PO3! As my focus broadened, I noticed six other divers were there helping her as well – none were her instructors, none were from her class. They were all perfect strangers. A diver (in full wetsuit) arrived who identified himself as a physician. Then, within a few seconds, a paramedic arrived (also in full wetsuit). Everyone helping my girlfriend on the beach commented on the gurgling and showed the appropriate fear for her life. Less than three minutes later the ambulance arrived, the paramedics asked me her name, loaded her and were off in just moments.

As she was loaded into the ambulance I was told I could not go… I was horrified and crushed but just then a police officer told me he would escort me to the hospital and show me the way. During the ride my girlfriend said the two Medics were wonderful… helping sit her up so she could cough up “cups of seawater” that splashed on her front and floor. My girlfriend was terrified, but remembered their kindness and professionalism. I ran to change out of my dive gear and into my clothes, get my wallet, keys and her purse and ran to the car. The police officer was already next to my car and ready to go!

At CHOMP (Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula), my girlfriend went to the emergency room where she was immediately stripped of the wetsuit (it was cut off) and assessed. Within less than a minute, they determined she was dying from the water in her lungs so they decided to intubate her immediately. I bent over her head and explained what was about to happen and I saw the fragility of her life and fear in her eyes as they teared up. She was not sure if she would ever see me again. The sweetest girl I had ever met… that after 47 years stole my heart for the first time… was dying right in front of me and I was helpless to stop it. I rubbed her feet as the dozen medical professionals fought for her life. She was chemically paralyzed, intubated, and hooked up to life support. The heart wrenching sight of the one you love slipping in and out of a chemically induced coma and attempting to remove her intubation because of the terror of suffocation while strangers hold you down… brings a set of feelings beyond description. I wanted to kill the two Instructors that did this to her… I wanted to die if she did… I wanted to take away all of her pain and fear by enduring it myself. All of this happened in my heart at the same time.

In a short time it a lung specialist was called to use a bronchoscope to search inside my girl’s lungs for water. But first, she needed to be moved from the ER to the ICU. My girlfriend’s tubes and lines were transferred to mobile carts and her ventilator was disconnected and a technician began to breathe for her manually with an ‘Ambu-Bag’. I was told I could not be there and to wait in the ICU waiting area.

It took all of my will to force myself comply. Walking to the waiting room and away from her was the LAST thing I wanted to do. The moments of calm allowed the recent events to hit me face-on and realize how bad things were… and the individuals responsible for it… mainly the young SCUBA instructor that held her underwater during her panic. This image and the related HATRED and DREAD will stay with me until my last day of life. I sank down in the hallway against the wall and let it out. In the ICU, my girlfriend was prepped for the Doctor to perform a bronchoscopy and search for seawater, sand and vomit inside her lungs. The doctor was Dr. Karim Tadlaoui and he took the time to tell me exactly what was going to happen and in the conversation he obviously discovered I was very familiar with medicine so he told me I could stay for the procedure at the entrance to the room. I took up my position as they gave my girlfriend more sedative to make certain she did no awake in the middle of the procedure. Then sharply a nurse told me to leave and get to the waiting room. Not wanting a confrontation to distract the doctor I left… walked off, then around the nurse’s station, waited for her to be busy, then, In my typical fashion, I snuck back in just out of the nurse’s sight. Dr. Karim Tadlaoui searched her lungs and found enough seawater to kill her twice over… and promptly suctioned it out of both of her lungs. With great relief, he found no sand or vomit in her lungs. The CHOMP ER/ICU team saved her from drowning but now she faced potential congestive heart failure and pneumonia, both of which could easily end her life. I later learned on the Instructor’s SCUBA dive shop Facebook’s page that at this EXACT MOMENT… the Instructors were celebrating a great dive day with their students, giving hang loose signs and making faces for the cameras… without regard for the terrible fight for life my girlfriend was enduring. The pictures are on my computer as a reminder to the disgusting lack of humanity these two Instructors seem to display proudly.

That night in the ICU things settled into a bad-dream-like setting. Kind and superiorly-skilled nurses constantly adjust, monitor and hurt the one you love but you know it must be done. Arterial lines were attempted and failed, then eventually shoved into my girlfriend’s wrist artery. She was tied down to prevent her from removing the airway tube that was keeping her alive. Pain medications, antibiotics, paralyzing drugs were given to her each minute of the night keeping her in a coma-like state. All I could do was to stroke her hair, her hand and kiss her cheek while she clung to life with a machine breathing for her. I must have told her I loved her a thousand times.

Occasionally, she would awake and hand sign me she needed to write something. I gave her a pen and held a clipboard with paper on it. She tried several times to write a word but just couldn’t. Her frustration was obvious and it brought her to an increase of heart rate, oxygen delivery and it would hurt her throat from her breathing tube moving within her throat. She would collapse and lightly convulse as she faded into unconsciousness. Finally she was able to write a short sentence. Her writing was big at first fading into smaller letters until the pen simply dragged at the end from exhaustion. I studied it and realized what it said: “You… saved me” . The second I read it I looked into her eyes. They were teary and grateful. I moved to her head, held her and cried with her. She passed out from exhaustion and it almost looked like she died. It was a horrifying feeling and only her vital signs on the monitors quickly dispelled the concern. The longest night of my life followed when I watched the girl I love on lifesupport. Each of her breaths were mechanically administered by a 75 pound machine. She was kept in a chemically induced coma. Her vital signs were as low as I had ever seen on a living person. Her blood pressure was a low 64/32 to 78/46 all night. She would occasionally struggle to consciousness and fight her wrist restraints in an effort to remove her breathing tube with expressions of absolute terror. All I could do was hold her hand and kiss her beautiful forehead and whisper to her I was there and that the tube was saving her life. She was fighting with each precious second to get better.

All night, CHOMP’s elite and compassionate nurses would come in and access her condition, lower the oxygen level administered by her mechanical ventilator and check her breathing effort, blood oxygen and blood pressure to see if they could ween her off the machine. Every so often they would take blood samples directly from her artery to check for arterial blood gasses. The process seemed to take forever.

The next morning my girlfriend had improved enough that the doctor decided to test her off the mechanical ventilator. Her coma-inducing drug was reduced enough allowing her to revive enough to tell her what was about to happen. “We want to take out your breathing tube… and you are going to have to relax as best you can and help us.”

With a frightened expression, she nodded ‘yes’. Then the nurse injected more coma-inducing drugs placing her on the threshold of unconsciousness. The respiratory tech moved up and readied suction hoses, oxygen mask and a tray of instruments in case something went wrong.

“OK sweetheart,… here we go!” The nurse deflated the tiny cuff on the end of the breathing tube deep inside my girlfriend’s tracheae and gently but quickly pulled it out. My girlfriend coughed and gagged but did not throw up… then took her first clear breath in over 24 hours. The most beautiful sight of my life was seeing her breathing on her own and smile at me albeit so exhausted she could barely keep her head up. I kept strong for her, kissed her face (now finally free of tubes) and told her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her strength through all of this. I fed her ice chips for 30 minutes, then the nurse approved water so I gave her a drink. Within two hours she was able to try food. I haven’t fed anyone since spoon feeding my children nearly 30 years ago but I must say… the joy of giving my girlfriend a bite of Asian chicken salad was overwhelming! My baby was going to be OK.

As night fell she became tired and drifted off to sleep in a much more normal way. Shortly afterwards she woke up crying and gagging from a terrible nightmare. It was her young instructor holding her underwater while she fought for her life.

That night and each night since has been full of this same nightmare. She later told me that while in a coma she could hear everything that was said around her and was aware of each mechanical breath. She felt like she was suffocating constantly and that it was worse than the drowning… but paralyzed… she could not scream for help. She was imprisoned and tortured. She said my constantly telling her how much I loved her and my updates on her condition helped her through her coma-hell. Monday morning arrived and my girlfriend looked well enough to try and stand. They removed more IVs, catheters and ECG leads, then helped her up. My girl was standing and it felt like a huge victory over this terrible event. Shortly afterwards she was helped up and supervised by a nurse as she was allowed (and encouraged) to walk around the ICU carting her multiple IVs on a stand with wheels on it. I walked next to her beaming with pride over her strength.

After another hour, ICU physician Dr. Koostra said if she feels strong enough she can go home. My girlfriend did not hesitate! YES!!! Dr. Koostra agreed and departed to write her release orders for home care recovery. One of her nurses, Sarah, arranged for her to take a shower in another ward. While she was waiting for the water to turn warm, one of the ER nurses that worked to save her life walked by and was shocked to see her looking so good so fast. My girlfriend told her ‘Thank You’ for saving her life. The nurse was touched by her kindness and they hugged and cried together.

The ER Nurse said that the ER staff were calling her the ‘Miracle Girl’ because of her amazing survival and recovery! She has told that most people with this level of injury do not live. They die within hours. The wept together again in a warm hug… exchanged sweet glances and smiles and parted ways. My girlfriend felt alive… stunned… and afraid of how just how close it really was.

I was given the most beautiful Christmas gift ever when I was allowed to take my Miracle Girl home that afternoon.

The drive home was very emotional for her. She was in physical pain from all of the IVs, arterial lines, injections in her abdomen, her voice raspy from intubation, bruises from the life saving actions on the beach, painful breaths, etc. But the realization that she was so extremely close to death… because of two Instructors actions. These two people, instructors that were responsible for her safety… so completely failed her… was horrifying. After the 3 hour drive home I helped her inside. With her kids and mother continuously holding her while weeping emotions justifiably ran high! Afterwards she collapsed into her own bed with exhaustion. My girlfriend is in the best spirits she can muster but has day-mares and nightmares of being held underwater and suffocated. She trembles, she cries, she thanks everyone that saved her and she fears her instructors. When I began to write this article she became so terrified that these two Instructors would further hurt her I had to omit her name to put her at ease.

I have seen such things from combat trauma but never in a civilian. But this is the woman I love and my best friend. All I want is for her to be alive, see friends, and feel the air, hear birds, laugh and pet her animals and hug her kids. I want her to heal but the emotional damage will probably last for many years to come if not the rest of her life.

She suffers from memory loss, depression and a deep fear of the water. Just two weeks before she was assaulted by these two Instructors, we were in Quintana Roo during my latest expedition and she and I went on a discover SCUBA dive with my friend (and fine instructor) Marcos of Dive Balam in a cenote and for nearly an hour and she did wonderful. As I filmed her, she was happy, inquisitive and comfortable for the entire dive. She was not afraid of diving… she was assaulted into being afraid of water and has expressed terror of diving. I can only imagine how horrifying her daily dreams of drowning and suffocation must be.


SCUBA Diving is a dangerous activity. I have 14,000 hours underwater and consider myself a student of life and the sea. No one can learn enough. For 35 years I have watched good instructors next to poor or even unsafe instructors side by side. I’ve worried that an inexperienced person may not be able to tell the two apart. My advice to prospective SCUBA Students is to ask around and get word of mouth from trusted people about whom to go to for SCUBA instruction.

We are all just animals bound to the same mortality as any other creature… but we also have the same attributes if we decide to use them. I am speaking of instinct. If a little voice is telling you something about your instructor… LISTEN! Bail on instructors that behave like these two Instructors did. Do not proceed! When you enter the sea (or lake, etc.) you need your intact instincts more than ever… so I highly recommend you learn to honor them.

If at any time during an open-water SCUBA instruction dive you feel like you have a problem beyond your training and comfort level… STOP!!! I knew these two Instructors (in my opinion) were awful and my instincts were screaming at me but… I followed my girlfriend’s request ‘to be nice’ so she could get through the training because I love her… and she ended up in a coma of life support.

Please… learn from my mistakes. Listen to your instincts and act on them without concern of what others may think. It may safe your life or that of someone you love.

Dive safe.

- Scott Cassell

Story written by Scott Cassell, independent contributor.

The opinions expressed by the contributor and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of California Diver or any employee therein.  Concerned with a story on our site? Email us here.

128 Responses to “Tragedy at the Breakwater: A checkout dive goes wrong”

  1. I seriously recommend that you contact a lawyer about this. Report the facts of your case as plainly and honestly as possible, and ask if you have a cause of action for a lawsuit. It seems like you would (possibly an intentional tort? or at least something like negligent infliction of emotional distress)–and your girlfriend may have signed some series of waivers when she initially decided to participate with SSI, but it doesn’t seem likely that such a waiver would cover blatantly dangerous activity by the instructors. Also, the majority of lawsuits never actually go to court–groups tend to settle when faced with the prospect of a lawsuit, and consulting with a lawyer should be enough to get something like that rolling.

  2. Scott:

    I am neither a lawyer nor an instructor, but this has got to be the worse case of incompetence by (more than one) instructor that I have heard of in over a decade of diving.

    So bad……so unfortunate. Your g/f is lucky to be alive and if I were in your shoes, I would take Mr Lee’s advice there and consult a lawyer–*especially* if SSI is refusing to contact you about the incident.

    This is the worst level of instructor incompetence I have ever heard of and it must maddening that they won’t even offer to speak with you about it. This just boggles the mind.

    Best of luck to you both,

  3. Scott, I have never met you, I wish, I have seen you on Nat Geo many times,I would be honored to have you dive with me, assist me and work with me or better yet allow me to have you join one of my classes, why, you could teach this instructor a whole new world and a whole lot of how to dive, Your article made me cry, saddened me that they would give a instructor credential to not one, But two Worthless Humans, Yet, I know it happens everyday. I am so sorry this happened to your love,she will likely never dive again due to two very lousy noncompetitive wanna be Instructors, I would be in jail right now if I had been in your shoes, a punch or two is the least of what I would have done, I know you do not live for from me, and some of my friends are your friends, Tet I have never had the Pleasure of meeting you, though I know from what I have seen and heard from my friends that are friends with you, that you had to be Pushed more then hard to do what you had to do, Me, Know, I would have been more Nasty and Violent then you were had that been my girl, I am not a perfect Instructor, and I am still learning and will continue to learn till the Day I die, I hope you put those SSI Instructors out of Business and they lost their License to teach, what a sad and Heart breaking story, and I apologize to you that you had to see such Poor Instructors are out there….. Again your story angered me and caused me to cry….. How sad that scuba agencies
    will give instructor certs to such Dangerous People….


  5. I feel so sorry for you bmp one should ever have to go thrrough this ever and it is for that reason that I almost suggest you/we/who ever reads this artical to try to genarate awarnes of this by createing a facebook page as this is how most things get viarl nower days and we use this to get SSI to lisson and name and shame these so called instructors

  6. I feel so sorry for you bmp one should ever have to go thrrough this ever and it is for that reason that I almost suggest you/we/who ever reads this artical to try to genarate awarnes of this by createing a facebook page as this is how most things get viarl nower days and we use this to get SSI to lisson and name and shame these so called instructors

  7. As both an avid diver, former SSI AI/Divemaster, and an ER nurse, I am thoroughly devastated by what your girlfriend had to endure. To think that a woman’s love of the water could be destroyed in such a flagrantly hateful and willfully destructive manner is just disgusting. The actions of the Instructors are pathetic. I’m so sorry for what she has gone through. Diving is one of the greatest experiences on this beautiful world, and it’s heartbreaking to think she will never get to experience those wonders. I’ve seen many bad instructors. During my PADI AOW class, I had an instructor pull me up from 18 feet (doing my safety stop) because I was “going too slow.” What your girlfriend suffered though, it’s unconscionable. As you suggest, it does seem that she was being punished by a pair of sadistic instructors.

    I can sense the anger that is still seething between the lines, and I would urge you and your girlfriend to talk to a professional. She seems to have some clear signs of PTSD, and timely treatment can help so much. Best to you both.

  8. Thank you for sharing this story, Scott. It is good for all of us – divers, future divers, instructors, and agencies – to read and internalize these lessons.

  9. Thank you for sharing and I too recommend you get a lawyer. You are such a strong person to have taken the right steps and things into your own hands. And your girlfriend is even stronger for surviving. Because of you.

  10. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s scarry to say the least.

    I can totally sense your frustration with SSI and while I will say that you can get excellent or poor instructors from any agency (including SSI), it’s disturbing that they won’t even return your call. I had a much more minor complaint with a NAUI instructor years ago, and NAUI was very responsive, thorough, and professional throughout. I hope SSI will step up to the plate and at least listen to your concerns and respond as a professional agency should. Again, the bad instructors could have been PADI or anyone else, but how it’s been handled is wrong.

  11. Scott, I can not believe how this story has affected me. I have been diving for 20 years, and I have seen some ignorant things. I have seen some dumb things, but I have never seen anything such as this. As far as I am concerned, they tried to commit murder. I am not the type of person that is sue happy, and I usually take things as a learning experience, but this….well had this happend to my love, I would burn SSI to the GROUND! (figuratively) I would own it. What the hell were these two doing? They should never be allowed to dive, let alone teach, again! I am sorry your love, and you and your family, had to go through this, and I am hopeful that SSI will do the right thing. I remember seeing this on the local new (I live about 3 hours south, Santa Maria) and was hopeful things were alright. Thank you for writing this, and allowing all to hear your story. I know I personally will never go near SSI, for anything!

  12. I am an SSI dive certificate holder, and Your story is make me ashamed and raising my blood temperature and really want to help you punch their face.
    I suggest you to write down their names to make sure if next time in the future we meet them anywhere any places. Please show us their name and we will help you by warning everybody to keep alert if this two monkey show their face in our area. Just let us know. And for SSI, if you don’t do something to scott and his girlfriend then this story will bring your name down to the bottom of the sea.
    Hope for the best for scott and girlfriend. Jesus Bless You

  13. Many years ago I signed up for a SSI advanced class and was told that because of my experience I could just pay the fee and be advanced certified. Not wanting to be part of that I switched agencies and reported the instructor. Just like you I never received a response form SSI. Since there are only a few insurance providers for instructors and dive masters I strongly recommend legal action against the instructors and make sure you list their insurance companies as defendants. Regardless if they switch agencies, they will always have to explain this loss and perhaps might be uninsurable. Most agencies will not let instructors certify unless the instructor has proof of insurance, not sure about SSI since they don’t seem to enforce ethics.

  14. Which dive shop was this? Somebody here must know…

  15. Thanks for sharing this very important story, and thank you California Diver for publishing it here! Most of the time the media and websites downplay and completely ignore stories about when things go wrong, accidents, fatalities, etc. but there’s so much we can learn from them. Sharing your story makes us all better divers and hopefully makes instructors learn how to do a better job too. My prayers for a full recovery (both physical and psychological) for your girlfriend.

  16. Wow! I am horrified by the acts of these instructors. I am a newly certified NAUI Instructor, and can relate with offering her back her reg as she panicked and trying to help prevent the dangerous bolting, however if they were paying attention she clearly was panicking and needed to surface and it was clear she was inhaling water. I have not started teaching yet because I don’t have the money for insurance, but man, these two should not be certified themselves! It sickens me. Thank you so much for sharing this story! It is really amazing to her things from the other side. I have heard instructors talk about rescues, and practice and practiced and thankfully have never been involved in something serious and this is truely a valuable resource. Thank you. I also agree with those above that you should leak the names of these two instructors so that they can be helped to udder stand their wrongdoings The Monterey Dive community is tight nit and they really should be able to help a brother out.

  17. This is a horrible thing to have happened to your girl friend and to you. Rest assured that you did everything right for her as soon as you realized what trouble she was in. Thank God for the great diver “bystanders” and the excellent care she received in hospital. As a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in psychiatric treatment, I agree with Hilary, that your Girl friend (and probably both of you) are suffering from PTSD. Seeing a counsellor and possibly even getting some medication to help her sleep for a short while may be very helpful. She may never want to go to the water again, although I hope her fears can be released w/ therapy. What happened to her was a crime. I really hope you follow up with this, because the dive instructors should not only lose their instructor licenses, they should be serving time for assault and battery. They should be thanking you from the bottom of their hearts that they are not also guilty of voluntary manslaughter. None of us should be complacent and let people like this continue to cause increasing safety risks for any other divers. We need to start naming names and forcing the dive agencies to take responsibility so this does not happen to anyone else.
    Good luck to you and your girl friend and family. My prayers go with you.

  18. Scott – please ‘out’ these two instructors and the shop they were affiliated with at that time so the rest of us can avoid doing any business with them. I have taught many, mnay classes at Breakwater myself and could ‘picture’ every thing you were decribing. Being a good instructor is part: excellent diver, being able to teach diving, and a very healthy dose of good people skills like: coaching, mentoring, monitoring, correcting, positive reinforcement, etc…but you never belittle students even when they need a lot of help. Again, please out these guys (or at least the shop) so I never inadvertently send anyone there or spend a single penny there myself!

  19. Scott – I agree with Josh. These clowns need to go away. They are a detriment to the industry and bring dishonor on all of us. You are a better man than I (they would have both been in the hospital fighting for their lives). You should seriously consider suing them, the shop they teach from, and SSI for negligence. Based on your description, neither one of them could pass the prudent man test in a court of law. I am sure there are others who were there for verification.

  20. Scott, thank you for sharing this. It is of vital importance that incidents like this are shared so we can prevent them happening again. I grew more shocked and horrified with each new incident in the story. Such a blatant disregard of safe diving practices you learn as a Rescue Diver forget Instructor! As hard as it must be for you to re-live the unfortunate events, you’ve done a great thing here by sharing this. Incidentally I’m a BSAC diver and incident reports are something we share and hope to learn from. I think this contributes greatly to awareness of how small problems can become huge ones under such dreadful circumstances as those you’ve experienced. I can only hope one day you and your girlfriend can look back at this and feel comforted by the fact you told people about what happened in the hope it wouldn’t be repeated.

  21. Scott, thank you so very much for sharing your story. It’s an intimate description of an almost tragic sequence of events. We’ve all had stressors underwater, with moments of slight panic, but it’s a learning curve. What your girlfriend (and you) experienced was NOT AT ALL that…it was an egregious departure from ANY competent measure of instruction. I’m so very glad that you’re BOTH with us…and hope that some very distant day brings interest to revisit the underwater world again. I SO VERY MUCH appreciated you sharing your story. That had to be difficult. Hugs to you and your girlfriend, Cathy

  22. Thank you for this story. PADI requires that instructors file an incident report if there is a problem that results in injury in a class. They also make it possible for students to file a complaint. I’m hoping that SSI has a similar policy and that you and your girlfriend have taken advantage of that process.

    Reporting these guys would either give these “dive professionals” a chance to learn from their mistakes, or better, It would probably keep them from a leadership role in the future. We have to tend our garden and that means pulling weeds.

    I’m so sorry for your troubles, and happy that both of you have your health today. Let’s clean up the SSI professional roster.

  23. I remember hearing about this story when it first came to light, but was unaware of the entire goings on.
    I agree with some of the other posters here that these instructors need to be ratted out. I have had my share of bad experiences (not nearly as life threatening)with a dive shop and am not afraid to tell those who wish to begin diving to stay clear of the particular shop.

  24. This story made me weep for you both. In addition to all the trauma she has suffered and nightmares which she will continue to suffer she has had the future of beautiful experiences you and her sharing underwater world stolen from her.

    Please please please for all those that will come after her, send this story to PADI and NAUI with those instructors named. Don’t let them do this to another person. Even if a situation doesn’t go to this extreme, their teaching actions will damage to some degree another diver. As I’m sure you’ve thought many times over, if you had not been there she would have died. Don’t let that happen to someone else!

  25. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am appalled by SSI lack of response. I have been a SSI Instructor for 10+ years and have 1500+ certifications with no problems. As an Instructor Trainer, I watch all instructors (out of habit) and some scare the heck out of me. It is time for all the agency’s to stop making it easier and easier to become an instructor. Lets go back to creating competent instructors. The store and instructors above should be shut down. There is always a level of stress present during a training dive, but you need to have fun. Fear is not fun and no student should ever be pushed into it by the instructor. Thank you to all those who stepped up and did what they were trained to do, good job all. I pray you and your girlfriend have a full recovery. I also hope she will be able to finish her certification someday. The Aquatic world is an awesome place to visit as you know, and she deserves to see the beauty below.

  26. Someone needs to forward this story to everyone at SSI HQ.

    Just sayin’.

  27. As I read this story I was feeling more and more upset and angry. I have been driving for 11 years and have been an SSI Dive Control Specialist, assisting with open water trainings, for the last 6 years. I was literately screaming at the ineptness & lack of abilities that these two instructors demonstrated. What should have been a wonderful experience will remain a horrible near death experience for life. An instructor’s first responsibility is to the safety of the student.

  28. The two instructors need to be named. Most especially if they are now under new employment and diving for pai /naui.

    What happened to you and your loved one should not be allowed to happen to anyone and the mere fact that this calibre of person is still teaching, well it’s your moral obligation to report them completely as well as seek further legal action.

    Im positive that the entire diving community will stand behind you on this.

    All the best,


  29. Scott,

    This truly is a frightening thought that these two scumbags are not the only ones out there! In fact, I personally know a couple of instructors who I wouldn’t trust with a bag of my s***!! While reading through your story, I was so relieved that it turned out alright….. I was already expecting the worst, and I’m glad that my predictions were wrong and that you still have your miracle girl!!

    I actually have a close friend who had more than one bad experience: One with her certifying instructor and one with a DM on a Catalina charter. Both severely incompetent idiots. Of course, her experiences did not reach the level that your hellish ordeal did. But even so, it strikes a very raw emotion in people, and really doesn’t take much. The ocean is not a natural environment for us, and even a small kink in the experience can put our survival instincts into overdrive. But as humans, we are capable of exploring the BEAUTIFUL underwater world using technology and knowledge, and it truly saddens me that there are instructors out there who ruin that capability in people!! And in your case, you were nearly forced to pay the ultimate sacrifice!! Your story put a lump in my throat.

    As of now, I am slowly trying to rid my friend’s fear of the water, and am
    realizing how difficult that task truly is! It was as simple as a pool dive, and she was actually quite nervous before we got in. And she had lots of discomforts that she just couldn’t describe to me. It almost seemed irrational at times, but I had to force myself to be understanding of her situation.

    I hope all is well with the two of you now! And I wish you the best of luck in getting the justice you deserve!

  30. Scott, what a horrifying experience. I am truly sorry for you both. Like others here, I wish you would name these two instructors and the dive operation. If you are holding back because your girlfriend fears retaliation, I’d encourage you to at least report these guys to PADI and NAUI. I know PADI at least would investigate and potentially blacklist these instructors. That would at least prevent them from teaching for other agencies and make the dive community aware of two obvious problems.

  31. I have an AOW cert from SSI. I also have a great instructor. He owns his dive shop and obviously realizes anything close to this is NOT to happen. He doesn’t cut corners and he makes sure you understand the training. During my initial OW dive class the shop was SDI and was taught by two of his other instructors. Both, also very competent. One interesting philosophy one of the instructors has, was if 3 things go wrong before you get in the water you should consider aborting the dive. Even if you are exaggerating, her ordeal could be called nothing less than horrific.
    After the first failed attempt to descend, a competent instructor would have offered her his octo, surfaced and instructed her on clearing the sand. Thank GOD you didn’t take time away from her rescue to beat the snot out of the jerks. The time you saved could have been the difference between life or death. Not sure I would think that clearly.
    What we have here is two irresponcible, Ignorant and NEGLIGENT Instructors who should be waterboarded for a minimum of 12 hours. You need to disclose their names and the shop they operated out of.
    As far as SSI it is upsetting for me to be a cert holder of thiers while they are hiding instead of conducting their own investigation and purging the bad instructors. SSI training materials are good. I suspect that 99% of SSI instructors are competent. I can’t figure out how You found 2 bad ones at the same time. I suspect they both were trained in the same shop. SSI take a lesson from Nixon ; It is the cover up that kills you!!
    Please, Report this to DAN and submit it to “Alert Diver” for publishing.

  32. As instructors we are entrusted with the privilege to share the ocean and it’s wonders with new divers. This sacred trust is one of diligence, dedication and patience. It is our responsibility to teach, mentor and guide our students with competence and compassion. We must always remember we lead by example, that we demonstrate situational awareness and commitment to safety through our actions. We must never forget that what we say and more importantly the example we set will remain with our students much longer than a single check out dive, That as instructors we influence both their safety and their enjoyment of diving and the aquatic world thought out their diving lives. We can never disregard or discount the importance of this pact with our students.

    Many of my students are youth and I can think of no greater privilege than introducing them to wonders of the ocean; no greater responsibility than providing them with safest and most enjoyable experience that I am capable of; no greater reward then the smile on their faces; and no greater comfort knowing that I have done everything in my ability to help them become safe, confident and comfortable divers.

    If our students safety and enjoyment ever stops being our first priority then we need to have the integrity and humility to step back and stop teaching.

  33. I just read your story in complete and utter disbelieve. After the first few paragraphs I was shocked, reading on this changed to horrified. No instructor of any organisation should ever behave like this. I have been a DiveControl Specialist for SSI for a few years, and recently moved to my full instructor certification. Every step down the way of becoming a Dive Professional, we are instructed never ever to force a student, always let them indicate their learning speed, never the other way around. Also, always anticipate what your student is going to do. If I would even doubt for a second a student of mine would not be able to retrieve their reg, I’d have my reg in front of her face instantly.

    To read stories like this always makes me sad. Students should have a good time in the water, learning how wonderful it is to be diving, floating around weightlessly. This is recreational scuba, no training camp. “Diving is fun, diving is easy, and everybody can learn it” is the motto my Instructor Trainer has, and one I’m trying to convey to my students every class and every pool session.

    This story needs to be sent to both the local area office of SSI (SSI USA in your case), and to the headquarters of SSI in Germany. I recently met the Training Manager for SSI, Ronny Kain, and I am sure he will be appalled by this story as well. Send their instructor numbers, and I’m sure that they’ll be banned from the organisation, as they should be.

  34. I think that this is a very scary and sad story. I am so sorry and hope that you and your girlfriend will be fine soon.

    Although I think that it could have been any training association, where the instructors belong to, this story shows aswell, that it is a much bigger issue inside the diving industry.

    There are individuals that should not be certified by agencies as a instructor. Some are mentally not ready or able to teach. The high risk and responsibility are not to underestimate.

    And the other thing is, that even if the one organisation might ban, expell or suspend them, there will be another organisation which will take them after a cross-over. They just need to pay their fees.

    As I did write in my Ebook, “I hate all these young immortal macgyver scuba instructors”. Young and freshly certified instructors or divemasters, be modest, gain experience, do not show off and do not pretend like you know everything.

    Training Associations must rethink, control and establish a better quality management, already at the beginning or inside of the instructor courses. The performance requirements and pre-requisites must be higher for individuals to earn instructor levels.

    It’s not the money for the courses, that makes someone a instructor. It is the mind!

  35. I am also an Technical Diving Instructor with an agency. I did not read that there was any mention of her pool training.
    We are under standards, to spend two full days with students in a pool even before we take them to sea. It is evident that this was not the case,as there was no discussion or arrangement between student and instructor beforehand as to weight belts, or weighting. Did they thumbsuck the amounf of weight the girl needed?.. I am just glad your GF made is alive today.
    Unfortunately, the way standards are being lowered in persuit of quick satisfaction, will have this type of thing happen, and it happens more frequently than what we would believe.
    Best of luck.

  36. Damn. That’s… I really have no words! I’m usually reticent to jump right on as there are always at least 2 sides to every story (and this one has three) but there’s just no way this cluster could be explained. Most disturbing is that it isn’t just lack of knowledge or expertise but rather blatant and purposeful dangerous behavior.

    Any new divers wondering who Scott Cassell is?

  37. @35 Responding as an SSI instructor, I have to say that we are also working under standards which say exactly the same thing. Students have to be able to perform the skills tought in the academic and pool sessions before being taken to open water. Lowering standards is prohibited by our organisation, exceeding them is ofcourse always allowed. If instructors do lower the standards, and so no longer adhering to them, they will lose their Active status.

    It always saddens me to read that instructors of a specific organisation harm the name the organisation has by behavior like this. It’s always the instructor who can make or break the scuba experience of his students, never the organisation.

  38. Your experience saddened me greatly and has inspired me to pursue the Rescue Diver certification. I hope you consider contacting an attorney. I understand why you withheld the SSI instructors names but really wish you could share them in an effort to protect additional victims. I have done beach entry dives at breakwater many times and wish your girlfriend could have had the epic, awe-inspiring dive that makes us return again & again. Thank you for sharing this story!

  39. As a follow up to my comment, I would like to recommend Jim Fields from Monterey Bay Dive Charters for any level of certification in Northern California. Jim is not only professional and trustworthy, he genuinely cares about his students. He has a very special ability to keep his students calm during the most difficult circumstances. He does all of this while sharing all of the wonders that diving in Monterey Bay has to offer. Even though I don’t need to dive with an instructor any longer, I try to tag along on as many dives with Jim as I can.

  40. I am in Monterey and will be here for the next one year. I have recommended a dive operation (which I dived with) to friends keen on learning, and presumed that previous dive accidents were due to natural conditions (diver or environment), but your story has revealed that it could be instructor-related. Please allow me the comfort of knowing that I may never recommend any possible ill-suited operator/instructor to my friends who may be prospective divers; I wouldn’t be able to live knowing that I “recommended” them to their deaths. Please share the names of the operator and instructors.

    Thank you.


  41. Scott

    That was one of the hardest things to read that I have read in a long time. I have been an instructor for 7 years. I have had my share of students that have needed a little extra help. I always take the time that is required to make the comfortable. I also always welcome them to bring their future dive buddy. There is certainly nothing wrong with starting your training with the person that you will be doing most of your diving with.
    As far as training agencies go, there is nothing wrong with SSI’s standards and there are certainly bad instructors out there in every training agency. I will say this however. PADI has the best instructor quality control of all of the training agencies. This is why, when I make recommendations to friends and family that I’m unable to train because of geographic location, I always recommend that they work with a PADI shop.
    Lastly, as someone who hates the idea of suing, a have this to say. If you have not called a lawyer, do so.

    Chris Ferrar

  42. I don’t understand why the agency name would be repeated over and over but not the instructors’ names or the shop name they work for.

    If the agency is accountable for the conduct of these instructors, why not the shop that hired them and why not the instructors themselves?

  43. The names of these two people need to be released and banned from teaching. Any instructor (or any diver for that matter) knows that the easiest solution to problems is to prevent them, not cause them. I don’t think you count the times it says this in the manuals it is mentioned so much. If I’m not mistaken you can take legal action here. Please do for the sake of divers worldwide.


  44. I would definitely get a lawyer and sue both instructors and the company. If not, they could kill someone in the future. It is important for divers to remember that they are not helpless slaves. They need to speak up for themselves and listen to their gut feelings. A diver instructor is not a god. Women, especially, want to be polite, but if someone mistreats a person, s/he should speak up. I would NEVER have allowed those instructors to speak to me that way, and I would not have done the dive if I were told I couldn’t go with her. I have done this with someone who was a new diver, and it was not a problem. This story makes me sick. I wish their names were posted and the company so others are warned, and they deserve the disgrace they would get.

  45. This story horrified me! Your girlfriend was very lucky that you were there. Scott you need to “shake their tree” and keep shaking it till you get a satisfactory result.

  46. Scott,

    I am thankful that you were there and knew what to do and saved your girlfriends life. I am sorry that she is having lasting effects from the event. I work as a paramedic and it has been my experance that the outcome of water emergencies such as drowning has a lot to do with what the “bystanders” as we say in EMS do. Those initial actions make the difference. When an ambulance is 3 to 10 minutes away it is a lifetime for that person needing help.

    As for those two instructors: They need to have all professional ratings revoked from all training agencies. Check your local laws and see if criminally negligent, battery, and attempted homicide charges can be filed. They are civilly liable in my opinion.

    Good luck and happy diving!

  47. Scott: You don’t mention if the owner(s) of the shop are aware of what happened. If not, you should make every effort to bring this matter to their attention as they should be very concerned. Furthermore, the shop’s owner should be involved in getting SSI to deal with this situation, as the shop hired and employed these instructors. In regards to the cost of the medical treatment, ask if the shop enrolls the students in a DAN program. I teach in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and our shop signs up all Open Water students in a DAN (Divers Alert Network)program that is free and lasts until training is complete. If your girlfriend was enrolled it would provide significant financial support in this instance. DAN would probably know if your girlfriend was enrolled, you should contact them to find out. In addition, DAN can recommend a physician that is knowledgeable about diving injuries and your girlfriend should definitely see a DAN recommended physician to evaluate potential long term implications of the injuries she suffered.
    My deepest sympathies to your girlfriend, it is unfair that this happened to her. I hope she does eventually overcome the stigma this situation has created so that she can share your love (and respect) of the ocean.


  49. Kudos to Scott Cassell and California Diver for sharing this story. I agree with nearly all of the comments above. Thanks for having the courage to share this incident and making us all better (and safer) divers!

  50. I very seldom respond to things I read on the internet. However, your story compelled me to throw in my two cents. Bravo to you and your girlfriend. Not to exclude all the help you had during the rescue. Goes to show, there are people out there that cares. I’ve been diving for nine years now and have never come across anything like this. I could hardly get through your story without getting angry. Being there for her is commendable.

  51. i’m very sorry for what happened to both of you.
    I don’t know you, but i’m happy that your love, she still alive.

    Now, in my opinion. I’m diver diving enthusiast, they should not be allowed to teach. Because I think if your girl friend was lucky to stay alive, some one else will perhaps not. Is it may be a warning, to inform and to do everything, not to leave this SSI Instructor do hurt any other persone.

    Plus let them change in to other compagnie like PADI OR NAUI, is like leaving criminals free, and “approved their actions”


    Good luck


  52. Honestly, I don’t see how you can blame the agency for this incident! It is the instructor and the facility- not the agency…. and by the way, I am a PADI instructor!

  53. I find this to be appalling and have just emailed SSI USA with the link to here to encourage them to follow up.

    I used to be an SSI OWI after completing a crossover and found their practises to be dangerous and not safety oriented. Luckily PADI at least has a vetting system for crossover candidates as they are required to give proof of certification when crossing over to PADI. If you have bad news on another agency then you will not be allowed to represent elsewhere.

    I empathise so much with you and your girlfriend and I sincerely hope justice is served. These instructors need to be vilified and the only reason why you change names is to protect the innocent; not the guilty.

  54. Your story is powerful. I don’t believe I could have shown as much restraint as you did.

    I took several things away from this:
    1) how dare these morons steal someones chance to enjoy the ocean.

    2) how dare SSI treat this so flippantly. that damages their reputation in my eyes more than anything.

    3) is anyone else amazed at the response on the beach? I think I’m going to have to take my rescue diver and oxygen courses. Amazing.

    You have a lot of recourse against the dive shop the instructors and ssi.

  55. I’m not surprised at the help that Scott and his gf got. Yes everyone should take Rescue and O2 classes (whatever your agency calls them). They help you stay out of trouble and also help in someone else’s emergency. Recently the Monterey diving community has helped in 2 separate incidents at Pt. Lobos. In the first the divers were beyond help but the quick response helped the surviving family cope. In the second the diver survived the initial rescue and last heard was still alive although in the ICU. Train yourself to help others, for you may need their help someday.

  56. I was at my local dive shop today and there was a group of people there talking about this story. It’s been reposted on a bunch of other forums and websites. I think it’s important to know that Bamboo Reef was not in any way involved in this – the class was not done by them. I have a good friend who was diving in monterey that day and said with 100% certainty that it was All About Scuba in Fairfield who was teaching this class.

    Anyone who has ever met Scott can tell you that he’s a class act, and It’s honorable of both Scott Cassell and California Diver to not name the instructors or shop. But people need to know who’s responsible. This is such an important story and glad it was shared with the dive community.

    I’ve emailed a few SSI Instructor friends of mine and one to SSI HQ to let them know how their lack of responsibility is unacceptable within the dive community. In fairness, there are good and bad instructors in every agency and SSI did not directly cause this accident. It is their responsibility, however, to be accountable for their instructors actions and hold them responsible for not teaching properly or to standards.

    I encourage others to email SSI and share their outrage. You can use their general email address which is . If anyone has direct emails for their officers or training department I would encourage them to share.

  57. Hello, I wonder why no mention of contacting the Dive shop that the instructors work for. SSI requires all instructors to work out of a SSI dive facility. (unlike PADI which allows their instructors to work as INDEPENTS)The shop owner should have been contacted ASAP. That shop owner is reponsible for his instructors. Their unprofessional actions are a liablity for the shop. In my oppinion going to SSI is taking that shop owner out of the responsibilty loop. In my mind the IT and IC for thoose two instructors share some responibilty also. Just my two cents

  58. I had my checkout dives done at the Breakwater (Padi) and fully understand the mindset of what it’s like when panic starts to make things escalate. Cold water suits are more restrictive and I know how she felt when she was confined for so long and how the choking sensation can get to you. It sounds like she was intentionally preyed upon by severely negligent people that day.

    Scott, the accounting of your gilrfriend’s tragedy was a horror to experience but a greater travesty would have occurred if you had not spoken up. I hope a laywer is hot on the case and you and your girlfriend continue to enjoy one of our greatest gifts from God; the ocean.

  59. This is a very moving account of an avoidable (near) tragedy. It is fortunate that divers on the beach were around to provide assistance and contact EMS for help. The article was engrossing and descriptive, but…This account seems extraordinarily one sided so I dug around a bit.

    Seems that Mr. Cassell’s G/F has indicated that she plans on filing a lawsuit. This would undoubtedly limit SSI’s ability to respond (especially in a public forum such as this.)

    Mr. Cassell is something of a rock star in the scuba world (if Wikipedia is to be believed): 13k+ hours underwater, Nat Geo, Discovery, Animal Planet, Counter terrorism expert, Diving with humboldt squid in armor he designed, etc.. ( It seems odd to me that someone of his obvious expertise would allow things to progress to this level. I know that there is no way I would allow someone I loved to be trained by personal that I did not have confidence in myself. There are so many “no go” indicators in his narrative that it is boggling to the mind as to why his G/F continued into the water.

    Why was the certifying agency’s name repeated at every opportunity? Working on the premise that Mr. Cassell wanted to preserve the privacy of the victim (his G/F, understandable), and also chose to preserve the privacy of the perpetrators (the instructors, why not out the bastards?) and the business that ran the class (the dive shop, the ones responsible for the aforementioned bastards), why not extend that privacy to the certifying agency (SSI)? Instead, Mr. Cassell seems to have gone out of his way to disparage SSI at every opportunity.

    DAN provides dive insurance, at no cost to the student, coverage during their training dives. This should surely help with the financial burden of the medical expenses.

    While I understand the desire to warn others about these instructors (if not exact a degree of revenge) with a one sided tirade is not the most effective method. With a experience like this, and with Mr. Cassell’s connections, a objective third person narrative would have been far more effective.

    By the account, however one-sided, it is clear that something was horribly wrong with the instructor quality that day. It is fortunate that Mr. Cassell’s G/F survived and is hopefully on her way to a full recovery.

    There are always three sides to a story: his side, their side and the truth.

    My $.02

  60. Nice rush to judgement everyone. Let’s form a “drowning” posse and get these two instructors.

    I am an SSI Instructor. If and a big if at that that these instructors did what is said then certainly SSI should and will take action. SSI has a very strict set of rules and systems in all cases of Instructor potentially dangerous actions.

    Funny how with 10-13 students as his says no one else seemed to have had problems.

    I worked with a women a few years ago who’s self-proclaimed great diver boyfriend was next to her during pool sessions corecting everything she did and questioning my and the other instructors actions. I took the women aside and asked how she felt and did she want me to have her boyfriend out of the water. She hugged me and said YES! I banned him from being in the water with her and she went on to OW and is now an Instructor (and dumped the boyfriend) from what I hear.

    As Greg said above. We are hearing one side so that leaves two more sides (the instructors and the truth) to be heard from.

    What did the other OW divers say? Anyone speak to them? What did the dive shop these people work for say?

  61. It would be very informative if any of the other students in the class would comment, if only on the ‘extra’ classes while fully geared up or the instructors’ explanation on why they were down one student.

    I find it interesting that after a near fatality the class proceeded as planned. That gives no time for the instructors to figure out what went wrong and take measures to correct things. Clearly something went wrong – a young lady was taken to the hospital, intubated, and spent time in the ICU.

    Another interesting tidbit is that, in spite of a multiagency several week search, Scott’s and his gf’s gear was at the dive shop – and they never contacted them. For more details check out the article on the gear recovery her at California Diver magazine.

  62. @Joe: I know Scott Cassell, he is a very professional diver with a calm, collected personality, has been a dive instructor himself, has shown my husband how to SCUBA, and I know he wanted with all his heart to see his girlfriend succeed on her own merits. He was there to celebrate her accomplishments with her. You appear to be defending these SSI instructors. Do you know these people? I know what happened to Scott’s GF, I have personally seen how this has negatively impacted her life. Joe, I know Scott would NEVER hurt his GF, his GF has told me herself how she called for Scott to rescue her when her instructor was trying to drown her. So, who are you trying to protect? I will give these instructors the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they simply weren’t paying attention, didn’t realize when his GF inhaled water. But the facts remain: She did inhale water, she nearly drowned, the instructor stopped her from using her octopus, he held her under water when there was water in her lungs, and it was Scott Cassell who saved her life. I have witnessed SSI’s persistent failure to respond to Scot and his GF’s requests for information. SSI’s behavior and these instructors’ behaviors is shameful. If you are an SSI instructor, at this point, with what I have personally witnessed throughout this ordeal, I would never trust you with my SCUBA training.

  63. I read this story after first receiving an email from SSI headquarters which I assume to have been distributed to all SSI dive professionals. I can safely assure everyone that SSI is well aware of this situation and in fact has been in contact with Scott and his girlfriend and let them know that it is SSI policy that any SSI instructor involved in an incident be place in a review (non teaching) status. They even stated that Scott “thanked them for their efforts”. SSI takes this kind of thing very seriously and you can bet that if this really happened the way it was described, they will take care of business. Just my $.02

  64. I am a scuba instructor for several agency’s
    I guess the wait and get all the info is the correct approach.
    But know this, my prayers are with Scott’s girl friend
    for a full recovery. That is what matters most to me.

    I am curious , at this date, if Scott has heard anything
    from SSI, also, is there now a lawsuit? Which of course
    would make it probably unwise for SSI to respond.

  65. Scott, I am horrified, and gratefully that your girlfriend is alive.

    I’ve only been certified for seven years (AOW) and nitrox. I’ve got over 360 dives logged in seven years.

    Once or twice I have been feeling that gut instinct that tells me: sit this one out. As much as I hate to miss a dive, I listen to my gut. Sometimes I am sorry I sat out a dive, or I feel like everyone else is looking at me like I am nuts. But, your gut knows…..

    I am so sorry you girlfriend had this unsettling, horrid OW experience. So sad…..

  66. What a horrible experience. It sounds like the bystanderds and EMS were on it! I really hope these instructors “fry” and the shop goes down with them. Kind of lame throwing the blame to SSI though. This is a certification agency that writes the standards for instructors and dive shops to follow. I do not feel after reading your article and SSIs response email to instructors, that you should be putting any blame on SSI. I do hope SSI investigates and throws these instructors out and that you and your girlfriend get heavily complicated. But back off the certification agency and ‘update’ your article.

  67. Here is a reply from SSI’s twitter:

  68. SSI –Stupid Sadistic Idiots (just referring to the 2 idiots, i mean no disrespect to other more professional SSI insructors) , i feel ashamed that there are fools like this calling themselves instructors .
    , i am a scuba instructor and based on your description of the events, you have every right to haul them to court, reckless endangerment of life,it is very fortunate that your GF survived but unfortunate at the same time because the trauma she had to endure may have scared her off in venturing underwater again,it is going to be some time before the emotional scars heals. If i was the one doing the teaching , i would have welcomed you and even encouraged you to stay close to us, more for her sake and peace of mind , knowing that your presence will be a source of assurance and not ask you to stay away,, we need all the help we can get especially when it is to build confidence and calm down nerves, sounds like she wasn’t properly briefed on the equipment and what she was expected to do before going wonder she just made no sense seeing she has gone UW before that she would act the way she did . but the fool of a instructor was largely responsible for stressing her out when it was supposed to be his job to do the opposite and recognize her anxiety and calm her down ,beginners never react well to pressure. he could have killed her, tantamount to culpable homicide. i just hope that they do not drown somebody else because of the power trip they have.they have no right to be teaching in the first place, it is dangerous to others,

  69. I read this article before stumbling on a response to same from SSI:—SSI-President-CEO.html?soid=1101720866926&aid=V_eh13OlrrE

    Even before reading SSI’s response, I had reason to question why such a very subjective account was being published which only provides one side full of conjecture and overwrought emotions. I am not a lawyer, just a passionate diver, who has already seen the harmful effect that this kind of writing and one-sided accusations can have and how they can destroy people’s lives.

    If any of the above did occur, a criminal investigation should have been opened. Has it?

    I only hope the truth will come out or at least a full picture of events. I also hope his girlfriend will one day be able to experience the beauty and peace and lawsuit-free environment of the underwater world.

  70. Quick clarification from prior post, we do not allow certified divers that have friends/family in to participate in class.

  71. As a PADI IDCS I´m regularely involved in Instructor training and exams. I am not familiar with SSI standards, but I´m pretty sure this is not the way SSI traines his instructors. It simply can not be. All instructors are trained to go easy on there students, help them, give them positive reinforcement and “guide” them gently though there course, I m sure also with SSI. Although I agree there must be another side on this scary story, the fact it is written means there is a ring of thruth about it. These 2 jokers are not supposed to be instructors, and according to the SSI reply, they are “under investigation” which at the present seems to be the correct course of action. Very much would like to know what is going to happen…

  72. Roberto, like PADI, SSI has it’s own additions to the basic standards, but ours are based on RSTC standards, just like yours are. Again, if these Instructors acted anything at all like they are purported to, SSI will take care of business and they will very likely lose their credentials for life and probably alot more. For now, though, I will stand by and let the bandwagon pass until both sides of the story are out. Like every story, I’m sure there are two sides, with the truth to be found somewhere in between.

  73. The Jeff C and the Pam C in comment 25 and 27 were my SSI Instructor and Dive Con. They are the reason I hold the ratings I hold today. I held SSI as an organization in higher standards until reading this. I am grateful you were there to asist and provide the life saving actions needed and thank you to all the divers on the beach that truely showed what it means to be a member of this community. May her recovery continue and may the two of you have a wonderful and fulfilling life.

  74. That’s a horrible story that hit home. I am a PADI instructor who had taken two classes with TDI and was trying to finish up a 3rd class (Adv. Trimix) but my instructor could not complete my last two required dives so he set me up with another instructor who he knew in the local area. So I’m the only student with this instructor and his pal (not an instructor, but also a tech diver), and we go out on their boat on a fairly windy day, but not so bad that it was unsafe. They instruct me to jump in first and wait on the line, so I do.. Meanwhile the boat is being yanked up and down, along with me in doubles and 2 steel bottles), I let go of the line and just wait for them there..and wait and wait. I ended up ascending where I was sharply told to “get back down there and wait like I was told”. My stress level was going up already. After another 10 min, both of them dropped into the water and the plan was to drop to 220 following the line that had already been laid out on previous dives by them. At 140ft the visibility was nearly zero and the guys were ahead of me and well out of my sight- at no point did my instructor turn around to check on me during the entire descent. Somehow the buckle on the spring strap on my fin got caught in the line (it was just a thin twine) and the bottom was a fine silt, so with my every move the whole area of already zero viz got even worse.I didn’t want to cut the line because it’s what they were navigating with. My stress was elevating and I decided to just sit there and wait for them to come back- I was shining my light constantly hoping they’d see me somehow, but after 5+ minutes, nothing. The silt had settled enough that I could remove my fin and try to untangle the line, but of course that movement alone stirred up silt (the line was laid out along the bottom), so I put air into my wing to try to float there, let the silt settle, and try to remove the line while I was suspended. For some reason my mind went from calm and thinking to sudden anxiety- the blackness started to feel overwhelming, I realized I was alone and had been for at least 15 minutes, my breathing got faster and faster and my head was feeling dizzy- I felt like I was going to black out and knew I had to ascend (meanwhile my fin is still hooked in the line). I hit my inflator and started to go up, thankfully the line popped off of my fin- yes I should’ve just cut it off or ditched my fin but at that point my breathing had gotten to where I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air, heart pounding and still felt like I was going to black out, so I hardly remember shooting up to the surface from 140ft. I finally hit the surface, gasping for breath, and waiting for the signs of either an embolism or dci which I knew was coming.. I had a short swim to the boat in choppy water but with exhaustion setting in from the stress the swim felt like it took 30 minutes. Still no instructor. I was too exhausted to get into the boat but knew I had to get up there to alert someone in case I needed emergency medical attention. The phone call which assessed how I was feeling at the moment gave me instruction to wait on the boat and go get checked out once back on land, or call back immediately if I felt any symptoms. 45, yes 45, minutes later my instructor surfaced and glared at me, obviously pissed off. He didn’t say a word for the entire boat ride back, didn’t help me unload my gear, didn’t ask ANYTHING. I asked why they left me down there and never came back to look for me… His reply was “i thought you were right behind me the whole time, you should have let me know something was wrong”.. I never did another tech dive again due to fear of deeper waters and it took several weeks to get me back into dive gear for a shallow dive- gotta love these so-called “instructors”. I’d never, ever leave a student or turn my back to them!! I can honestly say that I hate that guy.

  75. Such an awful experience for your girlfriend and for you both, and you both have my apologizes. Reading about how your girlfriend felt after the incident, it sounds as though she has PTSD and hopefully she has sought professional help for it. Maybe in time, she will be able to return to the water and realize that those instructors do not represent the majority of instructors out there that take great care in teaching their students, not berating and endangering them.

  76. Sue the bastards.

  77. I came across SSI’s response via Twitter recently:—SSI-President-CEO.html?soid=1101720866926&aid=V_eh13OlrrE

    Sorry if this has already been posted. I agree that the circumstance in this story are terrible and I am neither supporting either party. I am merely posting this for additional information for others to read.

    Get well soon gf!


  78. I totally agree with SSI’s official response on this matter and that there’s always 3 sides to a story, but ultimately, no one else but the instructor is responsible for a diver’s safety when under is care and at this, these instructors have failed miserably no matter what the outcome of the lawsuit will be !

    I was once an SSI Dive Control Specialist and know the SSI way of doing things and was very happy teaching this system, but this industry seriously needs to shape up and create a system or method of evaluating instructors on a regular basis.

    Most of the time, instructors are only evaluated when doing the instructor exam and big big maybe, once in a while, organisations will send a survey/questionnaire to students who will rarely fill them out !

    So many times I have come across dive instructors teaching SSI, Padi, CMAS and whatever other organisation and some time have complained about certain individuals or shops who mismanage safety, blatantly break standards and lie for the sake of making a quick buck !

    Today I still see the same people still being dangerous and breaking standards because the organisations won’t take action or will ask them to fill a simple letter of excuse promising to never do it again for the simple sake of the Holy dollar these people/shops keep bringing in !

    How many incidents and fatal accidents will it take for organisations to stop thinking about profit the certifications bring in and evaluate their members on safety and respect of standards !

  79. As a current NAUI instructor and a former firefighter/paramedic, I read this article with great interest. As Mr. Cassell has an emotional investment in this event a certain degree latitude must be allowed in his telling of the story. And while I will try not to judge Mr. Cassell’s participation in this event, his vast diving experience and admitted unease with the instructors should have prompted him to step in and remove his loved one from a potentially dangerous situation. This in no way mitigates the actions of these instructors.
    As I read the article I found a few things quite troubling (taking into account this is one side of a story). I do not know SSI’s student/instructor ratio guidelines but it would appear to me that there were too many students for the conditions. Even in optimum conditions, that number of students can pose problems. Mr. Cassell noted that there were two instructors and additional support staff. This class should have been divided into two groups and either each group be led by one instructor or both instructors supervise two individual dives.
    Having certified loved ones participating in training dives is always problematic. Mr. Cassell’s presence was obviously increasing the agitation level of the instructors and added unnecessary fuel to a smoldering fire. In my classes’ friends and loved ones who are taking classes together are not allowed to dive together until their final certification dive. This prevents whatever interpersonal dynamic that they share on the surface from following them into the water. I also never allow non-instructor certified divers to participate in any training dives. It is difficult enough keeping new divers focused without the added distraction of extra divers flitting about.
    As for the SSI instructors. Due to his experience I will grant Mr. Cassell the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what truth may eventually come to light the fact remains that a student suffered a life threatening injury. If Mr. Cassell’s account is to be believed the instructors failed in their duty to ensure the safety of their students. Attempting to force a panicked student to remain on the bottom is a highly irresponsible and potentially fatal act. I imagine the instructor was concerned about AGE but as you learn in basic first aid/CPR, if they are not breathing they are dying. Their lack of concern for the condition of their student and their unwillingness to follow up on that student shows a remarkable lack of character. I would not trust these people to teach my neighbor’s dog. And I hate my neighbor’s dog.
    SSI is in an unfortunate position. I am confident that SSI would like to do all it can to help in this issue but the threat of litigation has tied their hands.
    I pray for a speedy recovery for Mr. Cassell’s loved one. I hope that someday she will receive competent instruction and enjoy all that diving has to offer.

  80. This story was disturbing. I found the actions of the instructors to be in violation of most of what I was taught as a PADI Dive Master, as well as dangerous to future students and our sport. My sympathy is extended as well as my respect for a clear, well articulated description of the event. I hope that appropriate actions will be taken by a court, SSI, the shop and instructors involved. Frankly, I believe your girlfriend has a criminal charge as well as civil torts to pursue. I will certainly be careful to avoid the shop involved. As well as avoid any organization with SSI affiliation – while I am sure there are good SSI people, it would appear that the organization is not the extremely professional outfit that I have found PADI to be.

  81. While I admit this whole situation was horrible, I don’t think there is any reason to insinuate that this SSI instructor was “trying to drown her”. I would like to see this incident written from another persons vantage point. Scott obviously couldn’t keep his anger at bay as he wrote.

  82. While I agree that this is only one side of the story, there’s no question in my mind that these instructors should not be teaching. Aside from the attitude their actual training is not up to SSI standards.

    I can understand Scott Cassell’s frustration here. While I think you can get a great or bad instructor through any agency (although hopefully not this bad!), SSI did not respond appropriately. Even the letter they sent publicly was hostile. I wish they would have taken the high road on this one and if anything just told people that they take diver safety very seriously and will investigate this matter fully. That would have been better received, at least by me.

    Aside from everything, I wish Scott Cassell and his girlfriend a complete recovery and hope she will learn to dive in the future.

  83. There is a lot that can be learned form this incident and I was glad it was posted. Things like this need to be put out there so we can learn and become better divers.

  84. When I was first certified I had an experience not quite as bad as this, but under a similar set of circumstances. The instructors were great in class and seemed very friendly but when it came time for the checkout dives they seemed really stressed and that transferred over to the students. We had way too many students on the checkout dives (something like 12 with 2 instructors) and it seemed like everyone was having problems. The instructors who seemed nice in class were barking orders and making very angry hand gestures underwater to us and it was not a fun experience. My dive buddy had eyes like saucers the whole time and we were so relieved to get out of the water. It didn’t give me any confidence to go diving after that and I ended up taking another class in the tropics a year later.

    I read some comments that said that scott c. should have bailed on the dives when it first got stressful. It sounds logical but I know in my case I wouldn’t have bailed almost no matter what. Being put on the spot and having a confrontation with an instructor during the last day of class, and probably not getting certified, is something most people would avoid at almost any cost. We tend to think “well this awful but let me just get it over with” vs. bailing, even under tough circumstances. In hindsight it may have been the right thing to do but I can personally understand why they didn’t.

  85. SSI should have handled this differently. Posting a letter like that shows they have lost control and are essentially blameing the victims. I don’t know what actually happened but ssi’s responce was…ah….bad.

  86. I think this is a valuable story. I was very angry at these instructors while reading it. I think more stories like this need to be shared becase there’s a lot we can learn from when things go bad.

  87. Please name these instructors. They are a danger to the sport, and all who may be unlucky enough to take their course. They should not be teaching!!

  88. After reading this story and the replies to it, both contributors and SSI’s I have a feeling that more will come out of this. It is always horrible when something goes wrong on a certification dive and especially to this extent. I am definitely glad that the lady is doing better and will continue to improve. That being said I have also been an instructor for over 10 years and fortunately I have never had any type of major mishap during any of my training classes. I have also had my share of family divers want to do the class with their loved ones and I can usually tell quickly whether or not it will be a good idea. Most of the ones that aren’t allowed in the classes are the ones that seem to have no problem in letting you know that they are a better diver than I can ever hope to be. Those are usually the ones that I ask not to attend any classes. If they don’t like my style I will offer them a referral to a different shop or instructor. Unfortunately too many instructors, divers and friends offer too much “helpful” advice during classes and before checkouts. I’m not saying Scott did this but I also have trouble seeing Scott as a totally objective observer in writing this story. Get the story from the instructors, dive shoop and all of the other students. As it was stated earlier, there are at least 2 more sides to this story.

  89. Curt, I agree with you and a few other posters who say that it might have been best if Scott was not on the dive BUT the instructors/shop said it was OK for him to come along on the dive and it appears that they did not ask him to stay on shore or step aside at any time but instead gave him the “cold shoulder” treatment. With a simple 1-minute conversation they could have politely explained why its not good for a spouse/partner to go along on the dive and avoided the conflict.

  90. It’s easy to read this story and be judgmental, based on our own experiences and expectations. Some food for thought:

    1) California Diver agreed to publish this story – they didn’t have to, but they did. That says to me that they felt this situation was serious enough to warrant public awareness.

    2) If Scott Cassell had not been there, his girlfriend would be dead now. There is no getting around the facts that it was the instructors’ actions and negligence that put this dive student in direct harm, with the last-minute instruction to sit in the sand resulting in sand in the regulator and the instructor subsequently not allowing her to use her octopus when she reached for it. The instructor also failed to recognize that she was in respiratory distress and needed oxygen. His direct actions caused her to inhale water and he didn’t even realize when that happened. Is ignorance really a valid defense?

    3) Who should pay the hospital bill? She was in the hospital, in the ICU, on a ventilator for crying out loud, because her SSI instructor failed to recognize that she wasn’t getting the air she needed. Is she really responsible for this medical bill?

  91. George, I agree with you. A lot of things could have and should have been handled differently. Unfortunately, they weren’t. Would it have made a difference? No one will ever know. Fortunatley, this didn’t go from a major emergency to a tragedy. If the instructors were as bad as Scott described in his story, I will be the first to agree that their professional certs be permanetly revoked.

    1. The story was written by Scott Cassell and published by California Diver, and I doubt seriously if California Diver rejects many articles written by Scott. But being as pointed, direct and inflammatory as it is, I wonder if California Diver contacted SSI for their side or an comments about it. According to the letter published by Doug McNeese of SSI, they were never contacted by anyone from California Diver and have only communicated via email with Scott.

    2. This is a point that could be discussed in circles forever. If Scott hadn’t been there then his girlfriend would have died in the sequence of events as they happened. That would have made this an even worse tragedy than what happened. If Scott had not been there would this sequence of events have happened as they did? Would the instructors have acted as they did and been as cold and uncaring as the story describes? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. If you will notice my reply to Georges post, then if Scott’s presence intimidated them or they any reason for not wanting him there, they should have been a conversation about it, not a “cold shoulder” approach. In all the years I’ve taught, I’ve never been intimadated by a students significant other. A couple tried but it didn’t work. And I’m guessing, because I don’t know him, Scott didn’t try to intimidate anyone either. By Scott being a well know and very accomplished diver his presence might have been intimidating, but that is not his fault.

    3. I have a feeling the lawyers and insurance companies will be involved in settling the final payments on this bill.

    As I said before, I still believe there are at least 2 more sides to this story.

  92. Those are all good points in the above comments. I don’t know Scott or California Diver but I would like chime in.

    Scott is a very high profile diver and has written articles for California Diver in the past (some are on this website). He’s written for other publications and been on dozens of TV shows. This story was not only published here but on other websites as well. It was obviously written and posted by Scott and not California diver because if it was, it would not (legitimately) be posted on other sites at the same time without credit to California Diver.

    He is tagged here as an independent contributor and in my mind this is an ‘opinion’ piece. If it were a story written about Scott Cassell and his girlfriend’s dive BY California Diver, then I definitely think it should have been a point/counterpoint story with both sides covered equally. But the way it is wirtten and posted here it is clearly an editorial and not intended to be an objective story. I’m not defending anyone but I was an editor for many years and pay attention to these details, and opinion pieces like this definitely have a place in the media (even though others tend to shy away from them). He also left out the name of the instructors and dive shop – I’d wager that the California Diver took these out or asked Scott to remove them before posting it.

    Yes, this is only one side of the story, but I was very glad to read it from an educational point of view. This story itself can make all of us better divers and very likely save someone’s life in the future.

    As an assistant instructor, this story will definitely change my approach (not that it was bad to begin with)! I am going to pay much closer attention to the stress levels of my students, make sure they are as well trained and comfortable with their training and skills, and make a point to tell them that they can stop training at any time if they feel uncomfortable. I’ve tried to do this anyway, however I’m now going to evaluate this much more closely.

    I don’t think that SSI caused this accident, but they do need to take immediate action against these instructors – and it looks like they did based on SSI’s letter sent out.

  93. This is a terrible story, ok, maybe we only have one side of the story but nevertheless the result is a new “would be” diver ended up in hospital after a traumatic and unnecessary event. When I teach students I never permit family members, friends etc. during the first dives. I don´t have any problem on the last dive of the course, in fact, I welcome it as it gives me an opportunity to see who my new student will dive with in the future. I make sure that all my students are well practiced and competent in the pool before making their first open water dive. I lot can be learned about this incident both by would be divers and instructors:
    1. It’s always the Instructor that’s important, not the agency.
    2. If you are not happy with your instructor- change him or her.
    3. Always look for references before you start your class.
    I could go on, but I think that this is enough. One question for Scott, knowing your qualifications and experience, why did you not teach her yourself? (SSI as well as PADI, CMAS, and other well known agencies take instructor complaints very seriously, and I´m sure that they are working on it.) Give diving a second chance (to Scott´s Gf) you won´t regret it|

  94. My husband and I are both PADI Rescue divers and have had a bad experience years back while doing our open water one. Fortunately the “instructor” is no longer in business. Our love of the ocean and all its wonders is what keeps us diving and it saddens me to think that your love may never get to share these wonders. These individuals need to be exposed. It may not be the fault of the store or association and they may have moved on elsewhere, harming more unsuspecting aspiring divers. I truly hope the two of you work through this nightmare. Brightest Blessings. Kat and Conrad, South Africa.

  95. Hi Scott , This is a terrible story …but this 2 guy is not instructor in my mind, they are just money maker without any safety knowledge …

    when you tell follow your instinct , you are right …don’t dive with a center when you didn’t feel confortable with ..

    I hope your GF is now more confortable with the sea and the dive ….

  96. Dear Scott, I am so sorry that you and your girlfriend have got to go through this. I had been teaching Open Water & Advance Scuba for almost a year & a half now and I just hate to see those commercial interest driven instructor who would just FORCE their student to go through the training stages without having to consider individual adaptability towards water, and certify them irregardless of their actual performance.
    I agree with Kelly Mc Ginn’s recommendation but I will put it in different sequence of importance:

    1. Always look for references before you start your class
    2. It’s always the Instructor that’s important, not the agency
    3. One instructor (in my opinion) is best to handle not more than 4 students at any session.
    4. If you are not happy with your instructor- change him or her

    It is important to get your girlfriend to dive again under your very own presence and supervision, so she will forget about the incident.

    God bless, dive safe to enjoy the 70% of the world!

  97. Scott, I hope SSI or somebody has done a full investigation of this incident and the two people responsible are no longer instructors and have had their diving license revoked. People like that have no place being in the same water as I am or any other diver. For your girlfriend, I hope she is fully recovered now, mentally and physically and willing to give diving another chance.

  98. Thanks for sharing your story. For the sake of future divers, please take legal action. Those people have no business being instructors. At the very least, they should have their license revoked, if not criminally charged.

  99. I wonder why; you dont bring them to cort ?
    They shuld be in jail !

  100. I first got Certified in 1977 as a SCUBA diver and in the many years of diving since, I’ve luckily only had to do 3 rescues and let me tell you, they are NEVER easy on you OR the person you’re helping. That said, reading this incredible story brought me to tears over the pain these two people went through. I think its the most powerful thing I’ve ever read and my heart goes out to these two amazing individuals. I also appreciated to wonderful heartfelt comments that poured out by so many following the article.

    Lastly, Kelly Mc Ginn, regarding your comment, all I can say is you’re an idiot and clearly lack insight, experience and compassion. Scott, you’re a rockstar and the world should be filled with more like you. Your GF is a VERY lucky lady.

  101. These instructors need dealt with, you being there saved her life but if something isn’t done who is to say these instructors will not do it again, chances are someone else could die.

    & Instructor Candidate

  102. I got so angry while reading this, I could kill!
    Just Glad your Girlfriend is OK.

    I’ve dived with a good SSI instructor and then I’ve seen a useless SSI instructor too. I suppose it can happen with any agency but it seems to happen all too often with the above mentioned.
    I’m Padi certified and my wife was going to do her open water with SSI, I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore though. I feel sorry for the SSI instructors that take their responsibilities seriously.
    They are going to end up at the losing end of something that they’re not responsible for.
    I get the feeling that a lot of would be instructors take the SSI route, simply because it’s cheaper than the more established Naui or Padi.
    Do you really want to get certified by the instructor that got away the cheapest????
    Scott, You’re a much better man than I am! I hope your GF gets over that fear so you can enjoy amazing dives together!

    P.S If that instructor may come across this. “You can be glad you’re alive! You wouldn’t have been if it was my wife in that situation, so thank God every day for gentleman like Scott.”

  103. Thank you for sharing your story Scott.
    I am so sorry that you and your girlfriend had the misfortune to meet such idiots. I can only hope that she will recover from the horrific experience to enjoy the wonderful underwater world we know. I am PADI Rescue Diver and will be taking my DM cert this year. Will be sure to share this with my fellow divers and future students.

    Wishing you and your girl all the best!

  104. I’m a lawyer, 26 years of knowing that there are two sides to every story, perhaps sometimes three or four. I am also a trained PADI rescue diver and have seen and known panic in the water. If even a small portion of Scott’s story is true, there is clear liability on the part of the dive shop, the individual instructors, and the sponsoring agency. While lawyers are often villified, the only reason we don’t have exploding Ford Pintos can be attributed to us.

  105. Saving your girl, while I can’t ever seem to hold on to one, such an honorable story. I would be humbled and honored to dive with you some day.

  106. I have wrote SSI and asked for an investigation into this matter, I am a Master SSI diver, and have always had nothing but high regards for my instructors. I don’t know what all happened here but I think if enough of us write in or contact SSI then at least this incident can be brought to light. 11-13 people with only two instructors is an issue to begin with. So 10-12 people were left for a period with only one instructor?

  107. Scott, I used to teach in Monterrey so I know the area very well. I am a PADI Course Director and I must say that I am both surprised and concerned by this story.

    I have trained over 2,000 people at all levels and I must say I never forget that this is a very dangerous sport and there is always anxiety present. Therefore, it is imperative to pay close attention to your students at all times, never assume you know what they are feeling but be very aware of all of their actions.

    I am very happy she is a miracle. As others have stated, you both would be wise to seek professional emotional support and seriously consider legal advise. Also, I agree with others above that you should post the SSI Store name and the names of the 2 instructors. These people should not be out in our world teaching and abusing newcomers to our world. Just saying!

    My best to you and your miracle GF.

  108. Within just a few minutes from contacting SSI this is the response I was emailed in return…

    Thank you for contacting SSI.
    We at SSI take diver safety very seriously.

    Below is a copy of what was issued on March 15th from Doug McNeese.

    Dear SSI Dive Centers and Dive Professionals,

    We write in response to the recent article in California Diver. The article is incendiary, and, while it is generally our practice not to respond to the media, we feel compelled to do so under the circumstances. Our comments will be brief, as we are constrained by legal concerns from commenting fully at this time.

    Mr. Cassell neglected to mention that his girlfriend has advised of her plan to file a lawsuit. This is a very important omission which we trust will put this matter in a different perspective for you. SSI’s policy is to try cases in court, where all of the facts will come out under oath, rather than in the media.

    SSI wishes to remind each and every one of you that the article conveys only one side of the story. SSI was not contacted for comment before the article was disseminated.

    The article portrays SSI as being unconcerned about the issues raised by Mr. Cassell. This is not true. It is untrue that SSI has taken no action to investigate the situation. It is also untrue that SSI has taken no action regarding any aspect of this matter, all as suggested by Mr. Cassell.

    SSI has not refused to communicate with Mr. Cassell or his girlfriend. SSI has communicated with both Mr. Cassell and his girlfriend via email. Moreover, SSI is unaware of any telephone messages from Mr. Cassell or his girlfriend not being returned-SSI has no messages from either of these individuals. SSI has not blocked anyone’s telephone numbers.

    Notwithstanding Mr. Cassell’s statement that SSI has refused to respond to email, SSI advised Mr. Cassell via email that it is SSI’s policy to place the named SSI Dive Professional / Professionals in a review status (non- teaching) until such time as the matter is resolved. Mr. Cassell responded to SSI, again via email, stating, “Thank you for your efforts.” Additionally, SSI has been in communication with Mr. Cassell’s girlfriend regarding the incident. The appropriate, authorized representatives have been in communication with the involved diver regarding her medical bills and her claims.

    Noteworthy is that Mr. Cassell did not disclose the identity of his girlfriend in the article due to concerns about her identity being disclosed. SSI finds this intriguing, as the involved diver will be identified in the lawsuit. Nonetheless, as a sign of respect, SSI will not identify Mr. Cassell’s girlfriend until such time as her lawsuit is filed.

    Please do not be misled by what you have read. SSI takes safety very seriously.


    Doug McNeese
    SSI President/CEO

  109. can’t believe instructors did not have you in complete wet suite all during pool sessions!!! I had to take the beginner course twice as I could not finish the first time with the class I started due to work. BOTH instructors had us in full wet suites with gloves the entire time!

    Oh and Carlos, I really think folks would have stopped buying pintos EVEN without the help of lawyers…. ; p lol

  110. I Scott, my name is Paulo and im the Commander of the Diving Detachment nº2 (salvage diving detachment) in the Portuguese Navy. Im also giving my first formation steps as recreational diver.
    My girlfriend also takes the scuba diving course, and we always dive together… fortunely we had never had an acident, but every time we enter the water i have that fear and thoughts…
    I just want to congrats you for the action and her for the strengh that keept her alive.
    Please bring that guys to the lawcourt…


  111. Hi Scott, I’ve been a PADI Divemaster for many years and, as such, have worked with many instructors. Most are amazing teachers and people and I’ve never seen anything like you describe. I’m appalled by your experience and must commend you on both your actions when your girlfriend was in trouble and on your restraint. These so-called instructors should definitely have their certifications revoked immediately. They are obviously not qualified, on so many levels, to teach new divers to dive, dive safety, love of the marine environment and the myriad of things that good divers have to know. Thanks God your lady is OK.

  112. As a life-long diver and an Open Water PADI Instructor, I am appalled and sickened by such behaviour of the “Instructors” in this incident. I have certified hundreds of students over the years (many of them at the Breakwater where this incident happened). I have seen and experirenced many issues, but never had an incident such as this (thank god). You need to name & shame these instructors, their dive shop, turn them into SSI, and hire a good attorney – immediately. Your girlfriend was very lucky to have you there to literally save her life. And further fortunate to be in Monterey because CHOMP is an excellent facility.

  113. Scott, my heart goes out to your girlfriend. This story horrifies me. I was just at Breakwater this past weekend completing the exact same certification your girlfriend was wishing to complete. During my entire course none of my instructors ever held me underwater as I attempted to reach the surface. The only time one of my instructors held me back was when we were swimming around the bottom looking at the sea life and I started to get too far away from him. My instructors were always extremely patient, calm, and never yelled at me.

    I agree with the first comment that legal action should be taken and I believe these people should be brought to justice. They are trained professionals who know better so in my eyes this can easily be counted as attempted murder. They should be in prison.

    I would recommend trauma counseling for your girlfriend to help her recover emotionally from this awful experience. I wish her the best of luck and hope she will once again learn to trust an instructor, overcome her fears and complete her certification with a reliable and trustworthy instructor!

    Thanks for sharing this story!

  114. Scott – clearly the best of all possible outcomes from this horrific incident. being PADI certified (my wife had previously been SSI certified, she went through PADI with me when I got certified) my wife constantly commented on the more thorough and sensible ways of the PADI certification. Not saying SSI could possibly have its merits, but this recap is terrifying. Wishing you and your GF many happy returns to enjoy the sea – in a much more secure, enjoyable and safe environment. Best to you both – hope you are both well,


  115. Sad, too many instructors are just ego idiots these days. Best to teach yourself and then just find one to get the cirt later. You had enough experience for a one on one. I taught both my kids 11 and 12 before a class, after it was a piece of cake. I have been diving over 100 or more dives a year since 1974. The training is getting worse and worse. I think Naui does the best. Not crazy about the rest, but it does depend on teacher. You should put some names in this story. Why not? One note, the comment on there about the sand in the reg was a warning, are you kidding me? If the instructor seen it was full of sand, it was HIS! responsibility to fix that situation on the spot, no matter who was there, he was paid, he was the professional.

  116. As a current NAUI instructor and a former firefighter/paramedic, I read this article with great interest. As Mr. Cassell has an emotional investment in this event a certain degree latitude must be allowed in his telling of the story. And while I will try not to judge Mr. Cassell’s participation in this event, his vast diving experience and admitted unease with the instructors should have prompted him to step in and remove his loved one from a potentially dangerous situation. This in no way mitigates the actions of these instructors.
    As I read the article I found a few things quite troubling (taking into account this is one side of a story). I do not know SSI’s student/instructor ratio guidelines but it would appear to me that there were too many students for the conditions. Even in optimum conditions, that number of students can pose problems. Mr. Cassell noted that there were two instructors and additional support staff. This class should have been divided into two groups and either each group be led by one instructor or both instructors supervise two individual dives.
    Having certified loved ones participating in training dives is always problematic. Mr. Cassell’s presence was obviously increasing the agitation level of the instructors and added unnecessary fuel to a smoldering fire. In my classes’ friends and loved ones who are taking classes together are not allowed to dive together until their final certification dive. This prevents whatever interpersonal dynamic that they share on the surface from following them into the water. I also never allow non-instructor certified divers to participate in any training dives. It is difficult enough keeping new divers focused without the added distraction of extra divers flitting about.
    As for the SSI instructors. Due to his experience I will grant Mr. Cassell the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what truth may eventually come to light the fact remains that a student suffered a life threatening injury. If Mr. Cassell’s account is to be believed the instructors failed in their duty to ensure the safety of their students. Attempting to force a panicked student to remain on the bottom is a highly irresponsible and potentially fatal act. I imagine the instructor was concerned about AGE but as you learn in basic first aid/CPR, if they are not breathing they are dying. Their lack of concern for the condition of their student and their unwillingness to follow up on that student shows a remarkable lack of character. I would not trust these people to teach my neighbor’s dog. And I hate my neighbor’s dog.
    SSI is in an unfortunate position. I am confident that SSI would like to do all it can to help in this issue but the threat of litigation has tied their hands.
    I pray for a speedy recovery for Mr. Cassell’s loved one. I hope that someday she will receive competent instruction and enjoy all that diving has to offer.

  117. Excuse the previous release, it was a copy and paste as I do for the translation. Here is my message

    Thank you for sharing this painful experience. I got goose bumps and even commenting. This insite think. I am new OW diver and am on the lookout for potential accidents, being a nurse for several years.

    Halluciant is when I made ​​my certification, we had a ratio of 1 instructor to 2 students and even 1 for 1 as required. The instructors reported behavior is unacceptable and should be denounced effectively to ensure that no other person does not have to live such an “experiment” to see tragedy. I’ve read reports on forensic diving accidents occurred in Quebec (Canada) and I did not much thinking.

  118. OMG! I was gripped by fear and having to catch my breath reading this!! I am giving both you and your girlfriend virtual hugs right now!! YOU ARE HER ANGEL!
    I wish you named the incompetent bastards who are responsible because WE deserve to be safe!
    Rate them on YELP or Angies list or something!
    They should be shut down and in my opinion, the one dude should be arrested for attempted murder! HE SAW SHE WAS IN DISTRESS AND TRYING TO SURFACE AND HE HELD HER DOWN!!!
    I am so horrified! I cannot even imagine!
    I tell you what, if it were me and I survived, they would not have!! That is just insane! I am so glad she is ok and that you were there for her and I truly hope you take legal action against them! You will be saving even more lives by doing so! God Bless you both!

  119. Scott, I read your article on facebook posted by Dive Girls. It took me longer than usual to read the article because of how much I was crying. I am a avid diver and have always loved it. its going around a lot of people right now due to your courage to write the article. This story is Horrific, and if anything good can come from such a horrendous situation, it needs to be getting those two so called instructors banned from training another person, and diving themselves. They could end up on a dive boat and become some unsuspecting divers dive buddy. They also need to be held accountable for their actions. I also strongly support you in taking every legal action you can to see that this happens. I feel so badly for you and your girlfriend. You were both traumatized by their behavior. I also think she is so blessed to have you and that you were there with her pulling her through that awful night. God bless you both and I hope something can be done to prevent more tragic accidents at the hands of these two and their business. And also any of us that read the article, pass it on, and learn the valuable lessons as a result of your article. Thank you for writing it!!

  120. @Joe, It’s good to find the ‘correct perspective’ in all things. However, I seriously doubt that the man who was watching the love of his life experience such terror and egregious lack of competence/attention to detail would have any kind of interest in simply badmouthing the instructors for the sake of badmouthing the instructors. And even if he were, he would not describe the situation in such disturbing detail. I am not a diver myself. So when I say what I’m going to say next is fueled entirely by logic, not experience. Even if these instructors were simply not paying attention….and doing nothing more, which I seriously doubt is the case here…..that lack of attention could be cause for a lawsuit. At worst, these sick morons are facing attempted murder charges for keeping a drowning person underwater. There’s literally no way any of us but Scott and his girlfriend (and the ones who were immediately involved on the shoreline) really know what had happened, and it is basically anything but helpful to not completely side with the victims here. Think what you will, but I find you a little bit of a douche bag myself.

  121. I was so happy your girlfriend got to live. I was in tears for fear of her dying as I read on. That was just scary – her suffering, your loneliness. Just an Adv-Nitrox diver of just x160 dives around OZ & NZ. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes we make em just to learn ‘something, anything’!! when there is no instruction book to be found. But the idea of these two fellas not apologising for their actions, nor SSI giving supportive response is …is just insane! I would say, upon what you have written here (and I understand why you have not included their personal details. Wise.) – that SSI are no longer fit to participate in the Recreational Dive Industry as a Training Provider. Do not take legal action for ‘money’$$ (for it may have been the motivator behind the actions of both Instructors and SSI, for want of substance abuse …that’s cigarette smoking too!). Take Legal action to save the Recreational Diving Industry and maybe even bring your girlfriend back to us who ‘live underwater’. Hell (Abyss) – let ‘her’ take the Legal action. Sorry if my response is just wise and not intelligent. Sincerely – Jason Cook

  122. I am horrified that this happened to you and your girlfriend as well as to the rest of the dive class. I think you and she should consult an attorney and do your best to shut this operation down permanently before someone does die.

  123. Are you going to name these ‘instructors’ or what?

  124. Thanks about what had happen to your girlfriend & your correct action to save her, she had a good friend to help her. As a dive-master with Padi # 309534, there legal action as an Instructor & pro within the diving industries was broken, duty of care etc. As with Padi we would file a form for all diver student , the class is not finish until the paper work is completed. If there an accident then a full report is required to be completed by Padi, police, an the dive shop & all person involved in the dive/class , then investigation happen to try to stop this happening again.

  125. What an awful story and it brought up some similar things I have seen. There is nothing more stressfull then dive training and when instrucotrs forget that they become inhumane. I have worked as a divemaster and while it is no one’s fault, it is sometimes harder to have a certified person dive with the training group because that uncertified person looks to the certified diver friend for help which hinders the bond and communication needed with instructor. I am not saying that was the problem, but it complicated the issue possibly. And as for the instructors holding her down-they were probably trying to keep her from getting an embolism by rushing to the surface. But they do sound machismo and stupid and hats off to you to get her medical attention so quickly.

  126. Reading this sort of freaks me out, but it is not such a great surprise. The dive industry, the instructors, have a machismo problem. There is no question about that. It is about abuse of perceived authority. It’s a bit more as well, but I still am not clear about why.
    I love diving. I love to write about diving. I think that I have written more about California Scuba diving than anyone. Whether I have or not, my “seahunt Diving For The Fun Of It” web site is pretty big. Notice that it is completely anonymous. You would have to work hard to find the one recognizable picture of me in it (with my kids). The main reason for that is the overwhelming problem of machismo in diving. I did not want the site to convey the ego I had so often seen in diving. I wanted it to be about diving and for divers, not about myself. That is how bad I saw the machismo and ego problem in diving to be.
    Now, truth is I have met mostly great instructors, many that I only found out their training level only after they trusted me a bit. On a couple of occasions I have made judgement mistakes and gained lessons in humility when I misjudged divers levels of expertise, but I can say that is rare. Still, the ones like Scott has described here are too common and give an indelible impression. This problem needs to be addressed. I’m not sure how, but certainly though it endangers lives like in this case, in milder forms it also turns off an awful lot of potential divers. I guess the lesson to take away is to try to get a referral for an instructor or figure out if the instructor is a hazard. How, I can’t say. We have to trust our instructors, but this is a problem that I suspect the industry doesn’t address any more than other professions that protect their members and overlook problems.
    … Ya know though, it’s more than the instructors. That kind of arrogance is not unusual at dive shops. I’ve written about it on my site. I dunno. It’s too bad.

    In any case Scott, I have been a fan of yours since I first read “In Search of the Red Demon” where you “dropped your camera”. I loved your “Star Wars clone” dive suit. I just hope that you get to do a lot of diving with your fine lady. I dive with a new lady love in my life as well. My 14 year old daughter got certified.
    Enjoy the diving, Mike

  127. Hi Scott i have followed this story with interest Have been teaching diving down in South Australia since 1976 I cannot believe these instructors were not barred from teaching till this was sorted as they have a very good chance of doing it again Sounds like a very big case of DIVE INSTUCTOR bravardo and nerves with such a large group Your reply would be good cheers Nev G

  128. Wow. I’m speechless and teary eyed. Shocked. Horrible. You are a hero Scott.

    It’s interesting to me that this was SSI. When I did my OW with SSI, we experienced a similar atmosphere. Luckily the outcome wasn’t the same, but out of a class of around a dozen, only a handful were certified; over 50% failed. Students dropped out beginning in the pool. The instructors, although apparently veteran divers, were too nonchalant. That was my impression as a newbie. Having now been in the community for many years, I’ve discovered that the tone at that particular shop is based on the owner being a real A-hole. I don’t know how this reflects on SSI, but this is the second seriously bad instructor report I have of them now. Perhaps they need to better vet their instructors?