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Struggle for life as divers run out of air

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Two students are today in Auckland's Devonport Naval Hospital undergoing decompression treatment after a near-fatal diving accident off the Bay of Plenty coast.

The two marine studies students suffered the bends after both running out of air at a depth of 38m during a diving expedition between Tauranga and Motiti Island yesterday about 10.30am.

The men were diving when one ran out of air - forcing them to rely on the other man's air supply, known as "buddy breathing".

But at a depth of 38m that oxygen also ran out - and the subsequent rapid rise to the surface caused the men to suffer the bends, as well as one of them nearly drowning.

One of the men needed emergency CPR during a frantic rescue effort that followed. The bends is decompression illness caused by nitrogen bubbles getting into blood and tissues.

The men were taken to Tauranga Hospital by St John Ambulance at 11.30am yesterday. The Tauranga based TrustPower TECT rescue helicopter and the Westpac Waikato Air Ambulance later transferred the men separately to Auckland.

The sunny day turned to nightmare for the pair who were with two other Bay of Plenty Polytechnic students and Tauranga couple Bert and Lyn Kalmer on their launch, Striker II, yesterday.

Within 30 minutes of anchoring, two of the four divers - one of whom is a 37-year-old from Papamoa - were in trouble.

"We just don't know what happened down there," skipper Mr Kalmer said.

The men had requested a dive trip at the spot Mr Kalmer estimated between 6-10 miles out from Tauranga Harbour.

"They wanted to dive on a certain spot to check out what was down there."

When Mr Kalmer heard the worst-affected man calling for help Mr Kalmer immediately leapt into the dinghy and rowed to the distressed pair about 300m away.

Mr Kalmer pulled the dive gear off the two men and strapped it to the side of the dinghy and pulled the pair on board. "There was a sense of extreme urgency but there was no panic," he told the Bay of Plenty Times afterwards.

One of the men was unconscious on board the dinghy and his dive- buddy performed mouth to mouth resuscitation.

"When you are dealing with a situation like this it doesn't matter if you are doing everything right as long as you are doing something. We did the very best we could, I just hope the joker is going to be all right."

The dinghy had drifted 700m away from Striker II and in the meantime Lyn Kalmer had helped the other two divers on board and pulled the anchor up.

Coastguard then came to the rescue and supplied oxygen.

Coastguard operations manager Chris Isherwood said five men attended the emergency, which did not happen often.

He complimented the boat crew on their handling of the situation saying they couldn't have done it better. He estimated there were about six diving incidents in the Bay each year out of a total of about 170 rescues.



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