Mark Laboccetta is rescued by his dive partner in Marathon Key, FL
by Mark Laboccetta
In July of 1999 I was doing some diving off Marathon Key, FL with a few friends. Near late afternoon, the local dive cattle boat was leaving the wreck of the Thunderbolt, so we made our way over top of the wreck. I landed a 27″ yellowtail snapper and was energized to get some more nice fish.
A few days earlier I had spotted some big cubera snapper on the wreck and figured I might have a shot at one. After a few reconnaissance dives I spotted a few cautious cubera milling about. I breathed up and began my dive as my friend, Chris, and a girlfriend were spotting me. I lay down on the deck at 90 ft trying to pique the curiosity of the fish. I saw one late in the dive and decided to go back to the surface and give it another shot. At this point I was very concentrated and focused on executing a long quiet dive on the wreck. I breathed up carefully a few minutes and headed down, not paying any attention to where my dive partners were before beginning the demanding dive.
After reaching my stalking spot on the deck of the ship 30 seconds or so into the dive, I looked around, saw a cubera come out for a quick peak, and missed my opportunity to swing the gun in time for the shot. I waited a bit longer for the fish to return, but to my disappointment it never did. I started slowly making my way off the wreck toward the surface.
At this point an amberjack swam by me and I thought, “What the heck – why not?” The fish took off, peeling line out of the reel. I worked the fish to keep it away from tangling in the wreck. Then, a goliath grouper showed up into the mix and tried to get a hold of my amberjack. At this point I was trying to horse the fish away from the wreck and the goliath, and was exerting considerable energy. At 60-70 ft I realized I’d really pushed it and muscled my way with determination toward the surface without letting go of my gun.
At 20 ft from the surface the thought of releasing my weight belt never occurred to me. The next thing I remember was waking up after hitting the surface and then choking and slowly sinking back under the water toward the bottom. For some physiological reason I was choking while I sank but I was unable to kick back up to the surface, unable to swim, and unable to help myself. As I continued to choke and swallow water, completely aware of my surroundings, I spotted Chris out of the corner of my eye. He swam down 10 ft or so, grabbed me, and brought me to the surface where I continued choking and convulsing. I saw the light when I hit the surface and it was the brightest and most beautiful sunlight I’ve ever seen.
I was nearly another shallow water blackout statistic but, as luck would have it, my friend rescued me and I got another shot, no pun intended. I got another chance at life. Chris now regularly asks me for “friendly” discounts.
At that time, awareness of SWB was minimal and there were no safety conscious professionals like Kirk Krack and Martin Stepanek to teach divers how to find their limits safely and not the hard way.
I encourage anyone who enjoys this sport to first, always dive with a someone they would trust with their life and, second, to take a professional freedive course in order to safely discover their limits and potential. No fish is worth your life. Watch for boats driving over you, too, and keep a float with a state regulation dive flag near you when you’re diving. In an accident, a legal size dive flag can make the difference between right and wrong.
Technosport Inc. – Omer USA