Despite warnings on hyperventilation given by spearfishing clubs and their state association, the NSW Underwater Federation, near drowning from the practice still occur in spearfishing contests.
After making six deep dives during the Australian Spearfishing Championships at Ulladulla last Christmas, Ray Johnson, 18, of Kingsford, hyperventilated for about 45 seconds before making a seventh descent.
He swam down about 70ft. As the fish were “Spooking” – shying out of range – he decided to explore a cave, a rash act at that depth.
“I saw something at the back of the cave and tried to get a better look,” Johnson recalls “but realised I had been down too long”.
He has a confused memory of the early part of his ascent. Then his mind went blank until he woke up hours later in Berry Hospital.
The spearfisherman who rescued him saw him swimming on his back in circles about 20ft. below the surface. He dived down but Johnson, clutching at him tore his mask off. Surfacing, the rescuer adjusted the mask, dropped his weight belt and swam down to Johnson again. He released Johnsons weight belt and swam up with him.
A rescue boat took them aboard. The crew laid Johnson over the gunwale and pumped water from his lungs. There was an ambulance waiting to take him to hospital as soon as they beached.
“The accident taught me my limits” Johnson says. “I dropped 3lb. from my weight belt, leaving 15lb. which is just about right.”
The president of the metropolitan zone of the federation, Mr. Merv Sheehan, says the federation stresses two particular “don'ts” about hyperventilation – “Don't do it excessively and don't do it when you are tired.”
From: The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, Dec 15, 1973